Introversion and extroversion

The terms introvert and extrovert (spelled extravert by Carl Jung who initially identified these personality types) reveal how a person processes information. Jung believed we have a preferred orientation, introverts preferring to find meaning within their own thoughts and feelings, while extroverts prefer the external world of objects, people, and activities, although both attitudes are present in each person. The understanding that others may operate according to one's non-preferred orientation is a positive step towards being able to develop more harmonious relationships with them. Equally, though, being able to harmonize both orientations within oneself is important for healthy psychological development toward one's own individual maturity as well as appreciating the internal and external aspects of everything in our world.


Origin and definition of terms

One of Jung's most important discoveries was the realization that by understanding the way we typically process information, we can gain insights into why we act and feel the way we do. Jung identified two personality types, or temperaments, that he termed "extravert," later spelled "extrovert," and "introvert."

In Jung's original usage, the extrovert orientation finds meaning outside the self, preferring the external world of objects, people, and activities. Extroverts tend to be energetic, enthusiastic, action-oriented, talkative, and assertive. Therefore, an extroverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. Extroverts are actually energized by being with people and become tired and bored when they have to spend long periods of time alone. Social psychologist David G. Myers found a correlation between extroversion and happiness: that is, more extroverted people reported higher levels of personal happiness (Myers 1992). However he could not determine if extroversion leads to greater happiness, if happier people become more extroverted, or if there is some other factor that affects both.

The introvert is introspective and finds meaning within, preferring their internal world of thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and dreams. Introverts have been shown to have the advantage over extroverts when it comes to long-term memory and problem solving (Van Mourik 2006). They tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and disengaged from the social world. Thus, one who is introverted is more likely to spend time alone or in contemplation, as these activities are rewarding. They may avoid social situations entirely, not because they are shy or misanthropic, but because they choose to. Introverts often enjoy long, one-on-one conversations about feelings or ideas, and may give excellent public presentations to large audiences. However, they find solitude, alone with their thoughts, nourishing and restorative. "Introverts are people who find other people tiring" (Rauch 2003).

Jung believed that the two opposing attitudes of extroversion and introversion are both present in each person. However, one is dominant and conscious, while the other is subordinate and unconscious. Thus, in Jung's Analytical model of personality, if the ego is predominantly extroverted in its relation to the world, the personal unconscious will be introverted. Jung also believed that the subordinate attitude compensates for any weakness of the other. For example, the dreams of a predominantly introverted person will tend to be extroverted, whereas those of an extrovert have an introverted quality.

In American society it is generally seen as more of a positive quality to lean towards being extrovert rather than introvert. Most people who consider themselves introverts usually steer clear of the word when describing themselves e.g., at a job interview, because they think people will see them as eccentric and different. People who see themselves as extroverts, however, will gladly use this word in a description of themselves thinking most people will consider it a positive quality. Laney (2002) states that extroverts make up about 75 percent of the American population, while approximately 25 percent are introverted.

Determining Factors

Both environmental and genetic factors have been shown to determine personality traits, including introversion/extroversion (Triandis & Suh 2002). According to Jung's theory, these "type preferences" are inborn and not socially constructed through interaction with parents, family, culture, or other external influences. Even so, the individual is impacted by such influences in the quality and strength of the development in her or his preferences. Nature and nurture are both at play. A supportive environment will facilitate inborn preference development; a contrary environment will impede or retard the natural development of inborn preferences. In terms of such environmental influences, the shared family environment appears to be far less important than individual environmental factors (not shared by siblings) (Tellegen et al 1988). Cross-cultural research indicates that basic personality traits, including introversion/extroversion, may be independent of culture, although they may be expressed differently in different cultures (McCrae 2002).

Since introverts generally outperform extroverts on tasks that require focused concentration in situations where there is little stimulation, whereas extroverts do better in tasks that require attending to many stimuli in an arousing environment, it has been suggested that the brains of introverts and extroverts function differently. Hans Eysenck proposed that introverts are characterized by higher levels of cortical activity than extroverts, leading them to avoid highly stimulating situations. Extroverts, on the other hand, would seek greater external stimulation to achieve optimal levels of cortical arousal.

Evidence supports a connection between brain activity and the introversion/extroversion dichotomy. Introverts have been found to show more activity in the frontal lobes of the brain, which are involved in internal processing such as remembering, problem solving, and planning, whereas extroverts show greater activity in areas involved in sensory processing, and visual and auditory perception (Garcia 1999). Other evidence of this “stimulation” hypothesis is that introverts are less tolerant of painful electric shock, show greater physiological response to a sudden noise, and their performance on a learning task is more affected by a distracting noise when compared to extroverts (Gray 2001). However, the causal relationship between brain activity and introversion/extroversion is not clear. The differences in brain activity may cause the differences in personality, or the person's tendency to introversion or extroversion may manifest itself in brain activity, or there may be some complex interaction between the two.


Personality assessment

The introversion/extroversion dichotomy has featured in many theories of personality such as Hans Eysenck's P-E-N three factors and the "Big Five" traits, and the tests designed to measure them. Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, found Jung's Analytical theory of introvert/extrovert types and four functions (thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting) of processing information so revealing of people's personalities that they developed a paper-and-pencil test to measure these traits. Called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), their test became one of the most popular, and most studied, personality tests in the twentieth century. This test has been used to great effect in the areas of pedagogy, group dynamics, guidance counseling, leadership training, marriage counseling, and personal development.

While most people view being either introverted or extroverted as a question with only two answers, the reality is that many people fall in between. The term "ambivert" was coined to denote people who fall more or less directly in the middle and exhibit tendencies of both groups. An ambivert is normally comfortable with groups and enjoys social interaction, but also relishes time alone and away from the crowd. They tend to be moderate thinkers and weigh more than one side to an issue. Most have warm but controlled personalities.

Although neither introversion nor extroversion is pathological, psychotherapists can take temperament into account when treating clients. Clients may respond better to different types of treatment depending on where they fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum. Teachers can also consider temperament when dealing with their students, for example acknowledging that introverted children need more encouragement to speak in class while extroverted children may grow restless during long periods of quiet study. Recognizing differences between introverts and extroverts can also help people to develop their personal spirituality, religious worship activities, and better understand the nature of their faith and that of others (Hirsh and Kise 2006).

Interpersonal relationships

Differences in introversion and extroversion can potentially result in interpersonal conflict. For example, introverts and extroverts use different strategies for coping with stress: the extrovert will want to go out socializing or shopping while the introvert will want peace and solitude. With a lack of self-awareness, their interactions with each other may cause the extrovert to feel rejected while the introvert may feel imposed upon (Rauch 2003). Acknowledging that introversion and extroversion are normal variants of behavior can help in self-acceptance and understanding of others. Extroverts can then accept an introverted partner’s need for space while introverts can acknowledge an extroverted partner’s need for social interaction. Thus, understanding type differences can increase one's self-awareness and help to create more cooperative and harmonious relationships.


The concept of introvert and extrovert personality types has proved one of the most popular aspects of personality theories and has featured in the most widely used personality tests. However, David Keirsey, who created the Keirsey-Bates Temperament Sorter, believes that introversion/extroversion is the least useful distinction in understanding people and predicting their behavior. In his view, the "Sensing" versus "Intuiting," "Thinking" versus "Feeling," and "Judging" versus "Perceiving" typologies (in which the first two pairs correspond to Jung's functions, or modes of experiencing the world) are significantly more useful (Keirsey 1998). He concludes that it is only because extroverts and extreme introverts are easy to spot, that this distinction has been considered so important.

Possibly because it became so popular, the nature of the introversion/extroversion distinction has become obscured. In Jung's original conceptualization, they were two distinct ways of processing information, which he believed were both present in each person, one being dominant and conscious, the other subordinate and unconscious. According to Jung's "principle of opposites," the energy of the psyche comes from the contrast between two such opposite attitudes, just as electric current flows between the two poles of a battery. The balance between them comes from the compensatory action of the subordinate, unconscious attitude. Thus, for Jung, extroversion and introversion are two qualitatively different attitudes to processing information, not two ends of a continuum.

However, subsequent models of personality have tended to regard it as a continuous dimension, on which people can be quantitatively scored. Thus, the term "ambivert" was developed to denote people who scored in the center of the scale. Jung would prefer to view such people as having achieved a level of "individuation" as they have learned to balance their conscious and unconscious aspects, resulting in the individual becoming whole, integrated, calm, and happy. Since both internal and external aspects of the world are important, bringing both orientations into balance is an essential component of a mature personality.


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