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Introvert and Extrovert Personality Traits

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Nov 09, 2020


Key Takeaways
  • Introversion is a personality type characterized by traits such as reserve, passivity, thoughtfulness, and a preference to keep emotional states private.
  • Introverts are most comfortable interacting in small groups and with one-on-one relationships, and are energized by spending time alone.
  • Extroversion is a personality type characterized by traits such as sociability, assertiveness, and cheerfulness. Extroverts seek out novelty and excitement, and enjoy being the center of attention
  • The concept of introversion/extroversion was introduced in 1910 by Carl Gustav Jung, existing as part of a continuum with each personality type at separate ends of the scale.

What is an Introvert?

An introvert can be defined as being someone who gets their energy from being in their own company, having time to ‘recharge’ on their own. Someone who is introverted may appear to be withdrawn and shy, although this may not always be the case (Carrigan, 1960).

Introverts may also prefer taking part in less stimulating activities and get pleasure from reading, writing, or meditating.

Introverts may typically prefer to concentrate on a single activity, analyze situations carefully and take time to think more before they speak.

Signs You Might Be an Introvert

  • You have a small group of close friends.
  • Thoughtful
  • Energized by being alone
  • Enjoy solitude
  • Tends to keep emotions private
  • Quiet and reserved in large groups or around unfamiliar people
  • Feel drained by people, and need privacy
  • Process their thoughts in their head rather than talk them out
  • More sociable and gregarious around people they know well
  • Learns well through observation

What is an Extrovert?

An extrovert is a person with qualities of a personality type known as extroversion, which means that they get their energy from being around other people. Someone who is extroverted may appear as very talkative and may be popular among peers (Carrigan, 1960).

Extroverts may wish to seek out as much social interaction as possible because this is how they feel more energized. According to estimates, extroverts outnumber introverts by about three to one (Cain, 2012).

Remember that extroversion isn't an all-or-nothing trait; it's actually a continuum and some people might be very extroverted while others are less so.

Signs You Might Be an Extrovert

  • Enjoying social settings
  • Seek attention
  • Energized by being with others
  • Are friends with many people
  • Sociable
  • Outgoing
  • Enjoy group work
  • Prefer talking over writing

What is an Ambivert?

Although many people view introversion and extroversion as two opposing categories, new personality theories have come to accept that it is more likely that introversion and extroversion are on a scale.

Some people may be placed more around the extroverted end of the scale, or towards the introverted end, and some may fall in the middle.

An ambivert is a person who shows characteristics of both extroversion and introversion. In other words, they fall somewhere in the middle of the scale. People who are ambiverts are said to be moderately comfortable in social situations but also enjoy some solitary time.

An ambivert essentially changes their behavior based on the situation they find themselves in. For example, they may be quite introverted and reserved around strangers, but will be more energetic and extroverted around close friends and family.


Psychological Theories of Introversion and Extroversion

Introversion is generally viewed as existing as part of a continuum along with extroversion, and most people tend to lie somewhere between the two. For example, they might be outgoing in some situations with some introverted tendencies.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung was one of the first people to define the terms introvert and extrovert in a psychological context. According to Jung (1910; 1923), personality is based on four pairs of opposing types.

He claimed that these types are present in all of us, but one is more dominant than the other, meaning that personality is on four dimensions, which are:

  • Extroversion/ Introversion
  • Sensing/ Intuition
  • Thinking/ Feeling
  • Judging/ Perceiving

Jung (1923) described extroverts as preferring to engage with the outside world of objects, sensory perception, and action. Introverts he described as being more focused on the internal world of reflection, are thoughtful and insightful.

Jung (1923) believed a balance between extroversion and introversion best served the goal of self-realization.

Jung’s theory differs from more modern perspectives of introversion and extroversion which tend to focus on the behaviors associated with the traits (e.g. sociability and assertiveness).

Whereas Jung’s theory is expressed through perspectives: introverts viewing the world subjectively, extroverts viewing it objectively. Because of this, perhaps Jung’s theory is limited in terms of describing introverts and extroverts.

Jung’s (1923) view of extroverted and introverted types serves as a basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This questionnaire describes a person’s degree of introversion versus extroversion, thinking versus feeling, intuition versus sensation, and judging versus perceiving.

Hans Eysenck

Hans Eysenck (1947; 1966; 1967) constructed a theory of personality which has a biological basis. He believed that personality was the result of biological differences in individuals’ nervous systems which ultimately affect their ability to learn and to adapt to the environment.

  • Eysenck proposed that personality could be represented by two dimensions:

    Introversion/Extroversion (E)
  • Neuroticism/Stability (N)
  • Psychoticism/Normality (P)

Eysenck asserted that each personality trait can be traced back to a different biological cause, particularly that personality is dependant on a balance between excitation and inhibition of the autonomic nervous system.

Eysenck (1967) also claimed that differences in behavioral extroversion and introversion are the result of differences in the brain.

He explained that extroverts tend to seek excitement and social activity in order to raise their naturally low cortical arousal levels, whereas introverts tend to avoid social situations in order to minimize their already high cortical arousal levels.

The Big Five

It has been widely accepted that Eysenck’s introversion / extroversion dimension exists (McCrae & Costa, 1985). However, the Big Five model of personality traits states that personality is the result of five core traits which are all represented on a spectrum.

The five traits are::

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

In terms of extroversion and introversion, this theory would not categorize people are being one or the other. It would say that everyone is on a scale of extroversion and people can be low on extroversion or high on extroversion.

According to the Big Five model, there are facets, or behaviors associated with high and low levels of extroversion (McCrae & Costa, 1985).

People who are highly extroverted tend to be more sociable, are outgoing, enjoy being the center of attention, and are energized by social interaction. Those low on extroversion prefer spending time alone, are reserved, dislike attention, and are drained by too much social interaction.

It was found that individual’s Big Five scores tended to stay stable over time with only some slight changes such as scores of extroversion increasing over time.

Although developed in the United States, the Big Five model appears to describe personality well throughout a range of cultures, suggesting that this theory is universal and remains the most widely accepted personality theory today (McCrae, 2002).

Likewise, throughout literature, synonymous traits have been found which supports these 5 core factors of personality.

How does introversion and extroversion impact behavior?

Happiness

Myers (1992) found a significant correlation between extroversion and self-reported levels of happiness. Extroverts also tend to report experiencing more positive emotions, whereas introverts are more neutral.

Likewise, Swickert et al., (2004) found that extroverts reported higher levels of self-esteem than introverts in their study. Fleeson et al., (2002) found that participants which were instructed to act extroverted, led to an increase in positive affect, even for those who described themselves as introverted.

Intelligence

Furnham, Forde and Cotter (1998) found a positive association with introversion and levels of intelligence and being successful in academic environments. However, Eysenck (1996) perceived extroversion to be a predictor of high grades at school, but lower grades at university level.

Despite this, Lekaviciene and Antiniene (2014) suggested there is a positive correlation between extroversion and emotional intelligence. There are also some suggested differences in how introverts and extroverts perform best.

For example, when participants had to complete cognitive tasks with music in the background, extroverts performed best, although introverts performed better when there was no music or noise being played (Mistry, 2015). This could be linked back to introverts feeling overstimulated/ too much cortical arousal.

Work Performance

In the workplace, extroverts are more likely to take on leadership roles since they are more likely to assert themselves in group situations (McCabe & Fleeson, 2012). Similarly, extroversion has been shown to be a predictor of leadership and social skills throughout life (Guerin et al., 2011).

Therefore, extroverts are more likely to do well at jobs with lots of interaction such as teaching, sales and management.

In contrast, it would make sense to believe that introverts would work well at jobs with less social interaction, or jobs with more independent work such as writing, engineering or accounting.

Negative Behaviors

Ryckman (2004) found that extroverted youths were more likely than introverts to engage in antisocial or delinquent behaviors. Ghaderi, Borjali, Bahrami & Sohrabi (2011) suggested that there could be a link between extroversion and psychopathic behaviors.

However, this does not mean that if one is extroverted then they are more likely to display these negative behaviors – it may simply mean that those who display those behaviors just happen to score high on extroversion.


Cultural Differences

The introversion - extroversion dimension is one that has been shown to be measured reliably across the globe, although there are distinct differences between cultural groups.

Especially in western cultures (e.g., the United States and United Kingdom), there tends to be a bias towards extroverts as people are often taught from a young age that being sociable makes you happy (Cain, 2012).

In the workplace, there is said to be a bias towards those who are extroverted, which can result in those who are not extroverted to feel negatively towards their job if their employer favors those who are typically more outgoing and assertive (McCord & Joseph, 2020).

In a seemingly extrovert-dominated world, introverts can often wish they can be more extroverted and try to go against what is their most comfortable behavior in order to be accepted or achieve more.

However, it is suggested that introverts perceive the world differently and may notice things that extroverts do not, meaning they are valuable to employers in this sense.

Whilst Western cultures are often biased towards extroversion, in Eastern cultures however, they tend to be more inclined towards introversion. Western cultures are typically more individualistic (focused more on promoting more individual success) whereas Eastern cultures are collectivist (focus on promoting cultural/group success). These differences between cultures need to be taken into account when researching introversion and extroversion.

Feiler and Kleinbaum (2015) assert that extroversion may not be as common as we think since extroverts tend to be over-represented in social networks. As extroverts typically have larger groups of friends and are often friends with other extroverts, they are disproportionately represented in social networks. In reality, introverts make up an estimated 25 to 40% of the population.


Differences in the Brain

There have been many studies on the brain when it comes to introversion and extroversion, investigating whether there are any biological differences between them.

Stenberg, Risberg, Warkentin and Rosen (1990) found that introverts have higher levels of blood flow to their frontal lobes than extroverts. The frontal lobe is responsible for memory, problem solving and planning, therefore it could be interpreted that introverts have higher functioning in these areas than extroverts.

Another study by Johnston et al. (1999) found that extroverts have higher blood flow in other areas of the brain associated with sensory and emotions (the anterior cingulate gyrus, temporal lobes and posterior thalamus).

Fu (2013) found that the neurotransmitter dopamine (a chemical that turns on the reward and pleasure-seeking part of the brain) reacts differently in introvert’s and extrovert’s brains. In extroverts, they found a stronger dopamine response to rewards, so they experience more frequent activation of strong positive emotions.

This could explain why extroverts may appear more outgoing and cheerful compared to introverts. Another study found that the traits of extroversion encompass more ‘wanting’ traits (e.g. assertiveness) and ‘liking’ traits (e.g. enjoyment of social interactions) – traits which are associated with the dopaminergic system around areas of the brain responsible for motivation, emotion and reward (Schaefer, Knuth & Rumpel, 2011).

Kehoe, Toomey, Balsters and Bokde (2012) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate cortical arousal in introverts and extroverts. They found that introverts tended to become stimulated very easily, whereas extroverts had lower levels of cortical arousal.

This can explain why extroverts may need to have more external stimulation as they can become easily bored. Gale et al, (2001) asked their participants to emphasize with positive and negative facial expressions and measured their responses using an electroencephalogram (EEG).

They also found a higher frequency of cortical arousal in introverts than extroverts. This evidence supports Eysenck’s theory that extroverts, and introverts have varying levels of cortical arousal.

Another study which used fMRI on participants completing cognitive tasks has shown that extroversion is associated with activations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, middle temporal gyrus, and the amygdala – areas associated with memory, attention, and emotional response (Lei, Yang & Wu, 2015).

BBC Radion 4: Introverts & Extroverts 14 minutes

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2021, Feb 09). Introvert and extrovert personality Traits. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/introvert-extrovert.html

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How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2021, Feb 09). Introvert and extrovert personality Traits. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/introvert-extrovert.html

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