Talking about introversion and extroversion, a very few people score in the extreme. Individual differences are normally distributed in the population (as in the graph below). Essentially, the vast majority of people have an average score, while only a minority are outliers.
This is one of the problems with personality type models like the MBTI (as discussed in another post). When a person is classified as one thing or the other, it is done on the basis of an imaginary threshold; the difference of a single agreement point on a statement might push someone from an introvert to an extrovert, or from an average score to a high one.
In truth, the majority of people are ambiverts – they score somewhere in the middle, and have some manifestations of extroversion some of the time. Carl Jung argued the extroverts are classified that way because that is how they behave most – not all – of the time.
So, it’s quite rare and potentially maladaptive to be a pure extrovert. But should we want to lean towards one end over the other? Extroversion is linked to happiness, self-esteem and sociability; who wouldn’t want that?
Introversion, as with any individual difference, has ostensibly survived as a trait because it confers some evolutionary fitness. Researchers suggest the same even of psychopathological disorders like ADHD, autism and bipolar disorder. Any trait can be advantageous in particular contexts.
Here are 6 reasons why it’s good to be introverted:
- Introverts are less impulsive and sensation-seeking, and therefore less likely to engage in risky behaviours. This has obvious advantages for health: for example, countries with lower extroversion scores have been found to have fewer traffic accidents; and introversion correlates negatively with sexual promiscuity.
- With introverts being less prone to hedonism and thrill-seeking, they are also less likely to exhibit workplace absenteeism; avoiding those drinks at night means you’re up and ready for work the next morning!
- Since they don’t feel as compelled to try new things, and since they are less impulsive, introverts are less susceptible than extroverts to addiction.
- Introverts have more time by themselves, which gives them ample opportunity to develop skills such as playing an instrument, as Csikszentmihalyi argues in his book Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
- There is evidence to suggest that introverts are better able to become absorbed in tasks and engage in fantasising. Likewise, solitude can allow for benefits like self-reflection and self-improvement.
- In a similar vein, research suggests that introverts have an advantage over extroverts when it comes to academic achievement because they are better performers on tasks which require sustained effort and attention, and they are more persistent.
The main thing to remember is that extroverts and introverts are simply different. We all require some level of information coming into our brains in order to be able to function; Hans Eysenck’s original theory was that introverts are more sensitive than extroverts to stimulation; the former require less data coming in than the latter do in order to function well.
This is why extroverts perform better than introverts on cognitive tasks when there is background music – and why, as one study shows, extroverts like to listen to music in the background and why they prefer music which is energetic, catchy and loud.
It is good to remember that, because of this, introverts and extroverts simply have different tastes. Buffer has a great list of tips for making introverts and extroverts feel comfortable; and a fantastic study by researchers at Cambridge found, through their analysis of Facebook “likes”, a fantastic guide for choosing activities to do with someone who is introverted or extroverted.
One final point to remember is that introversion is not the same as neuroticism; introverts are not focused on the bad things in life, they are just not especially focused on the good things.
So, extroverts – when your introverted friend is staying in on a Friday night, making an excuse not to go to the office party or declining to take part in a charity bungee jump, do not think that they are miserable, mopey or misanthropic… They are just not as enthused by excitement!
Even if you can’t Instagram it, sitting alone with a good book is an enthralling activity for many.
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