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Does one have to an extrovert or an introvert?

November 16, 2007

Have you ever wondered whether you are an extrovert or an introvert? I always did and suspected that I was somewhere inbetween. Now I am quite sure I am.

It was out of curiosity that I picked up this book called ‘The Introvert Advantage’ by Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D. It was published a few years ago and was on sale…

The book has a test which determines whether you are an extrovert or and introvert and well…it turns out that I am a bit of both.

What are extroverts and introverts all about?
Extroverts, according to the author, like to be in the thick of things, need external stimulation, talk more and listen less. Introverts prefer to relax with a few close friends, get over-stimulated by external stimuli, appear calm, tend to think before speaking and so on…and introverts are not necessarily unfriendly or socially withdrawn or even shy. But the major difference between an ‘Innie’ and an ‘Outie’ (how I shudder at those labels!) is that an ‘Outie’ requires external stimulation to be rejuvenated while ‘Innie’ needs alone time. Introverts may go out and socialise but they need time alone, more than they spend with other people.

Are there more extroverts in this world?
The author of the book also goes on to say that the majority of people in the world are extroverts…

Brightfeather has a comprehensive post on this subject where she has quoted several experts. And basically the experts agree on the fact that the world has more extroverts than introverts.

But most of the people I know, from neighbours and class mates to friends and relatives, are neither extroverts nor introverts. In my opinion most people have some of the qualities of introverts and some of the extroverts. I may be wrong, but whether I am or not, I think it’s time we stopped labeling people as I am quite sure that many people move from one state to another sometime in their lives. I have seen this transformation in several people due to circumstances. One can always say that these people remain basically the same, but that is irrelevant as it’s how people function that counts.

I am sure psychologists already know this, that most people do not fall neatly into either category, but unfortunately lay people have this habit of putting people into one category or the other. And the problem is that we can label ourselves as well, and unconsciously try and fit into these labels.

There are some misconceptions about extroversion and introversion
Many people have a superficial idea of what extroversion or introversion is all about. Generally people feel that anyone who is a party animal is an extrovert and anyone who is shy is an introvert…but the experts say that this isn’t the right way to evaluate. Public speakers can be introverts and so can sociable people.

And as Brightfeather’s post points out, society tends to think that being extroverted is good and being introverted isn’t.

That’s sad because I am quite sure that anyone who is a typically extroverted or typically introverted has a need to see the other side and bring a bit of balance into their lives.

But coming back to the book…well, it’s more than 300 pages long and seems to have been written to give confidence to introverts. It talks about ways that introverts can use to come out of their shell and feel more at ease in hectic social situations. It’s written in a simple manner, and meant for the layman. The book isn’t earthshaking in any way but it did increase my understanding of what extroversion and introversion really is.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2007 9:58 am

    Nita:

    Coincidentally, a clinical psychologist friend of mine in California has just sent me some info about a book “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness” by Northwestern’s Christopher Lane.

    I think psychology and ensuing labels are not an exact science. However nuances are either outside the limits of most people’s comprehension or cannot be discussed easily in this age of momentary distractions punctuating our lives. My money is on the former, which explains why reductionist thinking has so many avid followers😉

    In the popular Jungian test of psychological types, the Myers Briggs Inventory or MBTI (see Mahendra’s blog – he writes about his MBTI category etc) test, the continuum of E-I (extroversion-introversion) is significant but even a minor E score gives a person a label which can then be cited. There is controversy about the test but it benefits from what can only be called network effects i.e., so many people are now relying on this test that to trump it, something spectacular must be invented PDQ.

    I find both sides of these debates interesting – those who are keen to ‘reduce’ people to labels and those who are equally eager to be reduced or labelled.

    My behaviour as an individual – despite my MBTI ‘label – varies considerably depending on context. And although I am by and large interested in a broader range of topics than most people, there _are_ some things where I glaze over, fall asleep or get up and leave to make a cuppa..🙂

    I can however see why extroversion is more prized. Life advances based on people interaction and the ability to engage in it without being nervous surely paves the path for material and social success. Even the most introverted poets need some people interaction to figure – even subliminally – what to write about. Introversion in a self-promotion requiring social and professional environment may hinder a person’s progress and development, mostly because nobody has time to figure another person out. This renders itself beautifully to either-or simplification. However books like this are given to observer and self-selection bias – the author would hardly be a wallflower who may say – oh people like me are crap and have a hard time, so go out, go wild, be an extrovert..

    Thanks for writing about it, though. I am often asked why I write book reviews. I think if it is a good book, people may read it. If it is awful, that needs to be said too.

  2. November 16, 2007 11:50 am

    I thought to share following para from http://www.jainstudy.org/jsc1.05-AnswerstoFAQs.htm

    There are three categories of souls in the universe: Extrovert souls (BAHIRAATMA), introvert souls (ANTARAATMA) and supreme souls (PARAMAATMA). The supreme souls have purified themselves by shedding all material bondage through self endeavor and have become pristine (SIDDHA). They represent the ideals for us. Extrovert souls are worldly souls who are in pursuit of materialistic goals and thereby indulge in passions such as attachment and aversion. Through study, observation and experience, an individual realizes that worldly desires are limitless and materialistic pursuits involve passions such as anger and greed that poison the minds of individuals and society. On attaining such insight, the person becomes an introvert by withdrawing from the external and focusing on the self to pursue the path to peace of mind and genuine happiness. Eventually, an introvert soul purifies itself and becomes a supreme soul. An introvert person believes that actions involving violence and untruth have an untoward influence on our lives and create an atmosphere of mistrust in the society. Thus one who is in spiritual pursuit minimizes violence, avoids untruth and refrains from selfish exploits. Ethical conduct is good for the self as well as for society.

  3. November 16, 2007 1:25 pm

    @Bharath: You are treading into very murky waters. I tend to disagree with the standard definitions of ethics. Ethics do not mean “doing good” contrary to popular belief. “the rules of conduct” is perhaps the best way to define it, IMHO.

    As for introverts/extroverts, I don’t see how introverts are closer to “nirvana” than extroverts. I don’t see any hard and fast rule that introverts choose to shy away from the rat race.

  4. November 16, 2007 1:37 pm

    @The Depressed Doormat: I guess You are too young to understand that🙂 and yes you are The Depressed Doormat.

    Don’t take it seriously.. That’s my guess.

  5. November 16, 2007 3:04 pm

    Thanks for this post.

    I just wanted to share with you the best article on introverts that I have seen. It’s by Jonathan Rauch.

    There’s a place for everyone in the extravert-introvert continuum. So, I agree with you that labels are not very useful for those who are not at the extremes.

  6. November 16, 2007 8:31 pm

    Shefaly, thanks for your detailed comment. When you say that behavior can depend on context I agree with you wholeheartedly and by gradually changing one’s environment certain behaviors can become habitual.

    Bharath, thanks. I understand what you are saying, you are talking about spirituality. And the basic tenet of spirituality is to look inwards but then this is a state which few people can actually achieve and many may not even find desirable.

    DD, Bharath means nirvana, of buddhism. I think maybe ethical was not the ideal word to use…and that is why you misunderstood.

    Abi, thanks to you too, for the link

  7. November 16, 2007 10:05 pm

    I guess the variety of all types (extravert, inorovert and “in between” ) make exactly the beauty of the human nature. In the action and worldly succes-oriented societis extrovers are esaily exepted and appreciated. But it is them, who really need introverts to support them and give them something important they lack😉 So it is rather balanced after all…

  8. November 17, 2007 12:56 am

    HI Nita, I am most definitely an introvert even though I blog about myself at times.

    That’s it.😉

  9. oemar permalink
    November 17, 2007 2:15 am

    I am not a know-all person on this topic, but I do think that if we dont consider extroversion and introversion as in-born character trait, but rather something that develops as you grow and start to understand things around you, then a lot would depend on the person’s surrounding. Feeling of inferiority can easily set in introversion, in which case the person wouldnt be shy, but actually ‘afraid’ to open his/her mouth. In this process they pass off as highly deep and thoughtful people. Whereas extroverts are said to trust others too easily. I dont think there’s any hard-and-fast rule for this anyway – I have met idiots who can perfectly fit both categories.

  10. November 17, 2007 11:24 am

    Axinia, like you said whether you are an extrovert or an introvert (in any case I don’t believe in these labels!) each person can make an equal contribution to the world.

    Brian, you say you are an introvert…but do you really think that not blogging about oneself means something? What I mean to say is that I find that there are a lot of introverts on the net blogging about themselves. It’s easier for them to open up. But again, there are no rules…

    Oemar,
    that’s exactly what I mean. I can’t agree that an inferiority complex can give rise to introverts. I know a couple of ‘extroverts’ who have an inferiority complex and I know an introvert who is exceedingly confident about himself. So that is what my post is trying to say…this extrovert introvert thing is okay in theory, but in real life I find it doesn’t apply, not to most people. Human beings are far too complicated.

  11. November 17, 2007 6:19 pm

    Introvert/extrovert are interesting ways to characterize people, but I’m going to have to go with the view that when you look into them, there doesn’t seem to be as much there as one might think at first.

    A friend who’s a psychologist once told me the key distinction between introvert and extrovert was whether a person needed to “recharge their batteries” alone or with others. According to him, nothing much more than that is consistently true of introverts or extroverts.

    On the broader issue of labeling people, I find it difficult to believe we really know anyone who we think of primarily in terms of labels — no matter how sophisticated the labels might be. People always transcend our categories for them.

  12. November 18, 2007 12:56 am

    Nita,
    Great post. I agree, we all seem to shift between both personality types as circumstances arise.

    I find that the older I get, the more I crave solitude and peace. To recharge my batteries I need time alone. Meditation, yoga, and writing are the perfect antidote.

    But then I start feeling like I need to make human connections, and my days then take a different shape. It’s a balance, as you say. However, it takes some introspection to realize what one’s needs are!

  13. November 19, 2007 1:50 am

    @Nita
    Thanks so much for finding my post interesting enough to link to and to write a post on yourself.

    You have raised an important point. Most people have some extroverted qualities some of introverted qualities as well, and, transformations can take place.

    You correctly identify my point that society tends to think that being extroverted is good and being introverted isn’t.

    Like mariacristina I observe that as I age I place a higher value on solitude and peace than frantically trying to keep pace with social events like many youthful people do.

    Here’s a brief list of famous introverts: Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Einstein, Schweitzer, Mozart, Stephen Speilberg, John D. Rockefeller, Queen Elizabeth II, Truman, Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, C. Jung.

    Would any among us suggest that these people, as well as, the introverts in our own families and circles of friends make less of a contribution to society than extroverted “celebrities” do?

  14. November 19, 2007 7:21 am

    @brightfeather:

    This whole thing about extroversion and introversion is beyond me! I just cannot see people actually fitting into these categories except for may very few cases.
    And you made a very valid point when you say that one tends to get sick of partying as one gets older. One’s basic nature may remain the same but one tends to stay more at home and frankly I think partying or not partying becomes more a of a lifestyle/work habit after a while and may cease be a symptom of a personality trait. It also depends on opportunities. When one moves to another town, opportunities for socialising shrink and it may take years to build up a decent social circle, even if one wants to. And soon being with fewer friends may become a habit…

  15. anurag.s permalink
    November 19, 2007 6:17 pm

    Pretty complicated topic..
    I concur there’s a big over lapping area between two extremes…
    and nobody is an extreme intro or extro…
    I find your comment section and your replies very delightful..

    and yes I am back…2 bug u wid my stupid comments…

  16. November 19, 2007 8:41 pm

    Anurag,
    welcome back Anurag and no your comments aren’t stupid!🙂
    In fact I would say your comment was quite insightful. Overlapping between the two extremes…that’s an unusual way of putting it and in fact has a deep meaning!

    Paul, Christine, sorry I didn’t reply to your comments earlier. I have an aching tooth and I think I’m going to visit the dentist tomorrow.
    Christine I actually did not even see your comment until now! Or Paul’s. Just saw the last one this morning… (brightfeather’s) ..I’ve been distracted because of my tooth.
    thanks a lot for your detailed response, both!

  17. Justwondering permalink
    April 19, 2008 5:14 am

    Ah, labels. The only thing black and white about life is being alive and being dead. And some people dispute that. There exists no pure introversion or pure extroversion. We are all both to varying degrees. To the degree that your are a little more than the other, you can choose to slap on the label introvert or extrovert.

    I am primarily an introvert, I am also moderately shy. I love a good dance party or any party where the focus is on an activity (besides getting wasted). Small talk with a bunch of strange people leaves me cold, but I’m OK with it one on one. I have been known to chatter away like an extrovert when I’m with more extroverted folk, although this is rare.

    I find the overemphasis on extroverted traits in this society as annoying. I don’t believe being outgoing is a particular virtue and neither is popularity. I’ve known some outgoing popular folks who are complete a**holes and some aloof seeming people who have the souls of poets.

  18. May 1, 2008 10:55 pm

    The people who believe wholeheartedly that someone has to be either an extrovert or an introvert have one thing in common: They are dumb.

  19. vivek mittal permalink
    May 19, 2008 12:30 pm

    I’ve got a feeling that extrovert people are more successful

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