byIt’s a little more complicated than you may realize…
Most of us think being introverted or extroverted is as simple as falling into one of two boxes: Would you rather stay at home on a Friday night in your pajamas or go out to the bars with a big group of friends? Would you rather be the center of attention or stay as far away from the spotlight as you can?
But the truth is, your personality is not that black and white. “There are no pure types in psychology,” says Dan McAdams, PhD, chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University. “Extroversion/introversion is a continuous dimension, like height and weight. There are people who score at the extremes, like very heavy people, or very tall people, or people who score very high on the trait of extroversion—but most people fall in the middle of these bell-shaped curves.”
Regardless of where we sit on the spectrum, there’s no doubt that personality plays a huge role in our everyday lives. “Everything that people do is a reflection of their personality,” says Michael Robinson, PhD, professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. “Personality is always with us, influencing what we think about, what we feel, and how we behave.”
Our personalities are made up of what psychologists call “The Big 5” personality traits, which have the acronym OCEAN: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, says Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
So even though extroversion is only one part of our personalities, it’s still a big part of how we think and act. And just how extroverted or introverted we are can influence everything from our social views, to our relationships, to our careers. Here’s what to know about the two polar ends of the continuum and determining where you fall.
What is an introvert?
Being more of an introverted person means you thrive on spending time with your own thoughts and ideas.
Common introvert traits
- Enjoy spending time in solitude
- Don’t prefer to be the center of attention
- Value close one-on-one relationships
- Think before they speak/not as talkative
- Need time alone to recharge and reflect
- Prefer working in quiet, independent environments
- Deeply focus and think about specific interests
- Can be seen as reserved
“One thing I think people get confused is the difference between introversion and shyness,” says Robin Edelstein, PhD, chair of the Personality and Social Contexts Psychology Program at the University of Michigan. “Shyness has anxiety, or a negative component, to it.” Pure introversion, on the other hand, doesn’t have that negative aspect to it. “They’re happy to be alone, not needing as much social contact, but not having this anxiety about, ‘Will other people like me? Will I be accepted?’ That’s more shyness than introversion,” says Edelstein.
Another important thing to remember about introverts is that just because they might prefer to be around fewer people, that doesn’t mean they don’t still have quality friendships and relationships, says Robinson. “Once a friendship is established, introverts and extroverts do not differ in the quality of the friendships that they have,” he says.
Although our society tends to be more geared toward extroverts—think leadership roles, building connections, and so on—the seemingly bad image introverts sometimes get doesn’t really hold water. “A lot of people have argued that we value extroversion so much in Western culture that introverts get a bad rap,” says Edelstein. “But there’s nothing problematic about being an introvert.”
In fact, on top of still having great relationships, introverts can also be extremely successful in their careers. The only difference is, they tend to gravitate more toward roles that have an element of solitude, such as accounting, engineering, writing, or long-haul truck driving.