What defines an introvert and how is it different from extroversion?
Are you naturally introverted? Or, perhaps you have an introverted friend or family member? If so, take a second to think about what it means to be introverted. Oftentimes, you’re told that being introverted is the same thing as being shy. But introverts simply prefer being alone over being with other people. This isn’t to say that they fear or dislike people, or that they are antisocial or lonely. Social gatherings are more tiring and overwhelming for introverts compared to extroverts.
Introversion is often confused with shyness. Someone who is introverted may appear to be withdrawn and shy, but this isn’t always the case (Carrigan, 1960). The only similarity between introversion and shyness is that they may both be characterized by limited social interactions.
People who are shy are generally fearful of social interactions and are incredibly self-conscious. Introverts, however, may socialize easily, but simply prefer to engage in social activities in smaller groups, or perhaps not at all.
When reading these, reflect on the communication style you use most. Are you mostly passive, assertive, or aggressive? Or perhaps you are passive in certain situations but aggressive in others?
Although there are varying degrees of introversion, there are a few signs or traits that introverts are more likely to exhibit in general. For example, an introvert is likely to:
- Enjoy solitude and feels energized by spending time alone
- Be thoughtful and empathetic
- Have a small group of close friends
- Tend to keep emotions to themselves
- Be quiet and reserved in large or unfamiliar social settings
- Value privacy
- Live in their head instead of talking it out
- Be more sociable with people they know well (e.g., friends or family)
People who tend toward introversion are generally more reflective, private, and thoughtful, while extroverts are generally thought to be more assertive, adaptive, and sociable. However, the key difference seems to lie in how the person responds to social activities. Although introverts don’t necessarily dislike social events or outings, they often find them tiring and feel drained afterward. Extroverts, however, are energized by social events and find it more exhausting to be in solitude.
Although some people may characterize themselves as an introvert or extrovert, the distinction between the two is not as clear cut. Think about your own personality. Would you consider yourself a pure introvert or extrovert? This might be hard to answer because, in reality, many of us fall somewhere between both extremes. This is why introversion-extroversion is better conceptualized as a spectrum—personality falls somewhere within this range.
It’s reasonable to assume that extroverts are especially suitable for jobs that involve a lot of social interactions, such as teaching, management, sales, etc. For introverts, it might make sense to believe that they would work well at jobs with less social interaction, or jobs that are more independent and flexible, such as writing, accounting, or engineering.
One group of researchers decided to examine whether introverts make good leaders (Grant, Gino, & Hofmann, 2011). In their studies, leaders were instructed to act introverted or extroverted, regardless of their natural inclinations. They found that introverted leaders are more effective when leading proactive followers (that are usually threatening to extroverted leaders), whereas extroverted leaders are more effective when leading passive followers. As such, they suggest that introverts can make excellent leaders if the context is correct because they tend to be guided by personal values and can make challenging decisions without needing social approval from others.
Introversion is an important aspect of people’s personalities that can vary across individuals. Although some people may identify themselves as introverted or extroverted, this personality trait may better be viewed as along a continuum. Some people are naturally more introverted or extroverted, but most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle.
- Carrigan, P. M. (1960). Extraversion-introversion as a dimension of personality: A reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 57(5), 329-360.
- Grant, A. M., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. (2011). Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: The role of employee proactivity. Academy of Management Journal, 54(3), 528-550.