The words “extrovert” and “introvert,” though commonly used, are widely misunderstood. These terms were coined by 20th century psychologist Carl Jung to describe two main personality types, though Jung recognized that most people shared traits associated with both and considered extroversion and introversion to be part of a wider spectrum.
Extroverts, who represent anywhere from 50 to 74 percent of the world’s population, enjoy interacting with and feeding off the energy of the people around them. They thrive in fast-paced settings, are expert multi-taskers, and learn by diving in and doing new things.
Introverts make up the other 26 to 50 percent of the global populace, and tend to enjoy having time to themselves, feeding off their own thoughts and energy. They prefer undertaking one task at a time, observing situations before partaking in them, and spending their time socializing with smaller groups of people, generally people they know well.
Biology of Extroversion and Introversion
Richard Depue, professor of psychology at Cornell University, believes that genes account for 50 to 70 percent of someone’s personality traits. He states that one’s interpretations of their environments and life experiences are largely determined by their inherited brain chemistry.
The front area of an introvert’s brain, an area stimulated by solitary activities, tends to be more active, while the back area of an extrovert’s is more active. This part of the brain is activated by external stimuli and requires a greater amount of the chemical dopamine, the chemical component of the reward center of the brain.
Traits Associated with Extroversion
- Greater activity in the frontal lobes and anterior thalamus, areas of the brain associated with recalling events, making plans and problem-solving.
- Tends to be more gregarious and outgoing.
- Is energized by interactions with others.
- Is more expressive and volunteers personal information more freely.
- Is sociable and outgoing.
- Has a large number of friends.
- Is assertive and talkative.
- Engages in outward displays of affection and enthusiasm.
- Is more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors.
Traits Associated with Introversion
- Greater activity in the posterior thalamus and posterior insula, areas of the brain associated with the interpretation of sensory data.
- Greatly values privacy.
- Tends to be quiet and more reserved.
- Has a small number of close friends.
- Prefers to socialize in smaller groups.
- Is more introspective and internally aware.
- Values his or her independence.
- Tends to be more cautious.
The Difference Between Shyness and Introversion
Shyness is described by Psychology Today as “a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety experienced in social situations.” In extreme cases, this can manifest itself in Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) or Social Phobias. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy. Introverts are often comfortable in social situations though they will be less inclined to seek out attention for themselves and generally expend more energy when participating in large gatherings, meaning they are more likely make early departures from such events. Where shy people fear social situations, introverts simply have less interest in them.
Shy people often have a desire to interact with other people comparable to that of extroverts, but refrain from doing so due to fear of rejection or criticism. Introverts, meanwhile, show less need or desire for social interaction with a corresponding low fear of engaging in such interaction.
Well-known Introverts and Extroverts
Johnny Carson and David Letterman are two examples of self-described introverts, and Carson stated in interviews that he was much more comfortable in front of audience than dealing with people on a one-to-one basis. While performing in front of an audience can be viewed as form of extroverted behavior, it can also be a very impersonal activity, where the performer is firmly in control of how much he reveals of himself.
Basketball Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan are known to be introverts, as are Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, businessman Warren Buffett, and author JK Rowling. Famous introverts of the past include President Abraham Lincoln, physicist Albert Einstein, and the aforementioned psychologist Carl Jung.
Famous extroverts include or have included presidents’ John Kennedy and Bill Clinton; civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr; boxer Muhammad Ali; musician Paul McCartney; basketball player Shaquille O’Neal; media maven Oprah Winfey; Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; and British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
It is clear that whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert has little effect on your success in life. It is important to identify your strengths and utilize them to your advantage.