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Extroversion & Introversion – The origins, misconceptions and the (subjective) truth

Extroversion (or extraversion, in psychological disciplines, though society seems to dislike the latter) and introversion are one of the most societally accepted and publicised personality theories.

Popularised by Carl Jung, introversion and extroversion upon conception was viewed as a matter of dominance – Jung believed that we all have aspects of both, but that one reigned more dominant within us.

In wider society, however, the distinction tends to be less nuanced.

Extroverts are generally conceptualised as outgoing, talkative and more energetic than introversion, which is seen as shyer and solitary in nature.

So, why don’t we run through some of the origin, misconceptions and realities of extroversion and introversion?

Artistic image of a brain

– Origins

When Jung initially conceptualised his version of introversion and extroversion, it was wholly different to the widely accepted idea of what it is now.

Extroverts were seen as interested and focused on the outside world, making them livelier and more energetic, often losing their sense of self in the pursuit of the ‘activities of the world’.

Introverts, alternatively, were seen as more thoughtful and introspective, uninterested in the goings on of others.

This original idea focused on the two personality types as a matter of perspective – the introvert has a subjective opinion of the world, and the extrovert has an objective one.

If, as I’m sure most of you have, heard of or taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, this was based on Jung’s eight personality types and expanded.

The more you know…

Three women laughing and socialising

– The ‘bodily’ explanation

Hans Eysenck (the bloke who did work on psychoticism and neuroticism) also spoke a little about the distinction between introverts and extroverts.

Namely, the difference in what they seek due to the energy/’arousal’ (stop being childish) levels that they have.

Extroverts are seen as seeking out high energy, exciting social activity in an effort to raise a naturally low arousal level (seriously, stop laughing), whereas introverts avoid these types of social situations in an effort to avoid raising their already naturally high arousal level further.

Similarly, when it comes to expending their energy, introverts find theirs best spent on reflection and often dwindle after prolonged socialising, whereas an extrovert enjoys spending time with others and feels their energy wasted when alone, resulting in boredom.

Open book

– Ambiversion
Ah, the ‘prefer not to answer’ of the extroversion/introversion scale…

Jokes aside, ambiversion falls in the middle of the dimensions of personality, going directly against the misconception that extroversion and introversion are mutually exclusive rather than a continuous dimension.

An ambivert is moderately comfortable with socialising and group activity, but also enjoys time alone; in essence, an ambivert changes their behaviour depending on the situation they are in.

For example, when strangers are around, an ambivert may present as more introverted, but in the presence of family and friends the person may seem more extroverted.

Personally, I think that most people will find this wholly relatable, in that as far as labels go, we’re often dissatisfied with being entirely one thing or the other, rather than landing in the middle.

– The ‘social battery’

To people who know me well, this will be a familiar term!

As someone who doesn’t resonate entirely with introversion or extroversion, with the lovely unpredictability of anxiety (see? Ambiversion is the ideal explanation), I often find myself enjoying social situations up to a certain point.

Hence, the ‘social battery’.

I start of social events at 100%, and sometimes I’ll never go down to 0%, and other times it can take only half an hour for me to feel social exhaustion.

It’s not that I don’t want to be there, but more-so that my energy doesn’t necessarily permit it, so I need to ‘recharge’.

The recharging phase usually involves some form of solitary activity, until the social battery goes right back up and I’m itching for some form of social activity.

(I know, I should cite and reference myself before someone steals my fantastic theory. If you wish to use this, please cite Hall, 2009, as I conceptualised this in the brutal beginnings of high school).

– Shy? Unhappy? Undesirable?

Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, makes the distinction that introverts may prefer solitary activity to social ones, but that doesn’t mean that they are shy, as they don’t ‘fear’ socialising.

Even so, the misconception that shy = introverted is still widely held, alongside other, more damaging ones.

In a Western society that values individuals who are high energy, sociable and talkative, introversion is often seen as the less desirable personality trait.

However, in terms of decision making, introverts are actually better at decision making due to relying on intuition! (Noman, 2016)

(Introverts 1, extroverts 0)

Image of a laptop with people sitting at a table

– The way we work
It’s no surprise that whether you’re introverted, ambiverted or extroverted, you’re going to have different preferences for the way you work.

Extroverts are likelier to go for snap decisions over important ones, feeling that they need someone to steer them in the ‘right direction’ for decision-making, in comparison to introverts who tended to make important decisions more easily, relying on intuition and being less impulsive. (Noman, 2016).

Extroverts also tend to prefer more intense noise levels during tasks, with introverts finding themselves to be more aroused (how many times do I have to tell you?) than extroverts at the same intensity (Geen, 1984).

Given the current disarray of working situations, it can be beneficial to know where you fall on the spectrum, simply just to make your life a little easier.

We spend a LOT of our lives working, so it makes more sense to view it as part of our life than a separate entity.

Though offices have shifted to a group dynamic, those who excel in their field usually spend much longer practicing their craft in solitude than they do in a group environment – no matter which side they land on.

french bulldog with a yellow background(Random dog pictures are always the best way to end a bit of reading, aren’t they?)

I’m sure we could touch upon even more research, dispute more misconceptions and generally discuss introversion and extroversion in more depth, but this will have to suffice for now…

Though most personality theories can be taken with a grain of salt, they can certainly open the door to further self-discovery that may help you in figuring out more about what you do, and why you do it that way.

Which side do you think you fall on?


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