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Are you Extroverted or Introverted?

Updated on March 22, 2012

How do you rate yourself- introvert or extrovert?

Most probably your personality lies somewhere in between these two extremes, for such 'pure' types are comparatively rare.

True extroverts tend to live lives that relate mainly to other people and worldly events. Impulsive and uninhibited, they may seek power, praise and wealth, but are usually emotionally shallow. Quickly aroused to anger but just as easily calmed, this 'butterfly' personality tends to find his profession in the world of businessmen, power politicians, diplomats, actors and film-stars.

The true introvert, however, is usually a solitary individual, concerned primarily with his own thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Inhibited and unsociable in personality, but rational in outlook, he is guided by strongly held principles and moral standards, and is often rigid and inflexible in the pursuit of his goals and beliefs. His greatest strength usually lies in an intellectual sphere, where he is remarkably sensitive and persistent. As with the extrovert, there are certain professions which seem to suit him best and the world of artists, poets, academics and writers abounds with introverted personalities.

Where these characteristics are particularly marked, it is unfortunately quite common for the two types to misunderstand each other completely. The introvert tends to exaggerate the extrovert's weaknesses and sees him as over-confident, lacking in moral sense and just out to make a good impression; while to the extrovert, the introverted personality may seem an ineffectual, withdrawn individual, who is both weak and over-polite.

Similarly, difficulties may also arise where extroverted and introverted children are part of the same family. extroverted children, who are often particularly popular with parents and teachers, may completely overshadow a shy brother or sister and cause him or her to become even more withdrawn, when with encouragement the introverted child could be helped to develop less obvious facets of the personality.

The terms 'introversion' and 'extroversion' (or 'extroversion') have been in use in Europe for several hundreds of years and are derived from Latin compounds: verto, meaning 'I turn'; intra, meaning 'inwards' and extra meaning 'outwards'.

An introvert is literally someone who is turned inwards towards himself. An extrovert, on the other hand, is turned outwards, to the world around him.

Although these terms have a long history, it is only recently that their importance in psychology has been recognized.

Their present popularity in ordinary conversation, in which they rival only Freud's Oedipus complex, is largely due to the work of one man, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.

In 1921, Jung published his now famous book, Psychological Types, in which he outlined a theoretical classification of human beings in terms of their personality. The basis of this classification was the notion of introverted and extroverted types.

But a type is like a pigeon-hole into which each of us has to be fitted exactly.

More often than not, it is impossible to fit people into such categories. We can all think of friends who are both sociable and sensitive, impulsive and introspective, and who thus combine both introvert and extrovert features. It is therefore not possible to refer to them as either 'introverts' or 'extroverts'.

Jung tried to find a way round this difficulty by creating a number of subtypes.

Distinguishing between what he called Man's rational processes of 'thinking' and 'feeling', and his irrational processes of 'sensation' and 'intuition', he described an extroverted and introverted type for each of these four categories, thus creating eight sub-types out of the two basic divisions of introvert and extrovert: the extroverted thinking type, the introverted thinking type, the extroverted feeling type, the introverted feeling type and so on. He was attempting to show that the same man could be extroverted in one process while introverted in another, and that, in addition to this, the man who is obviously extroverted may at the same time be unconsciously introverted.

However, it is also possible for each of Jung's groupings to show a combination of extrovert and introvert features . Other psychologists have therefore tried to find a solution to the problem by dropping the rigid concept of 'type', and putting in its place the idea of a 'scale' or 'dimension'.

A scale or dimension is a continuous line which runs from one extreme to another. In this case, it would run from the extrovert at one extreme to the introvert at the other, and each individual would be marked off at the point on the scale that corresponds to the balance of extrovert and introvert characteristics within his personality.

In this way, it is possible to account for the pure types, at the extremes, and the mixed types, along the dimension.

If we consider Jung's descriptions of introvert and extrovert not as types but rather as the extremes of a dimension, then a more realistic and flexible classification of personality emerges.

Even before Jung had published his theories, the transition from 'type' to 'dimension' had already been made. In 1901, Wilhelm Wundt, a German psychologist, described two dimensions which cut across the four basic types of personality- sanguine, melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic. These terms have a long history, originating in Ancient Greece, where it was believed that different personalities arose as the result of a variation in the distribution of fluids in the body, known as 'humours'. Modern biochemical and physiological knowledge, however, has shown that this is not so. But Wundt expounded his theory of personality further.

He believed that there are two dimensions which underlie these four types, and that these entirely explain an individual's personality.

One dimension, he said, consists of the strength of one's emotions; the other, their speed of change.

During this period, psychiatrists such as Pierre Janet and Ernst Kreschmer were also producing speculative theories of personality, most of which contained a dimension of extroversion and introversion.

The great similarity between the theories reflects the now widely held belief that Man's personality is made up of a few important dimensions and that extroversion/introversion is just one of these dimensions.

But Jung, Wundt and other psychiatrists and psychologists of the early twentieth century were really no more than armchair philosophers and their theories are based entirely on their own unsystematic observations. Although they share the belief that personality can be understood in terms of a few dimensions, they provide no actual evidence that t his is so. Psychology, like any other science, depends on systematic and painstakingly detailed study of individuals. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe spent many years simply observing and recording the movements of individual stars. From this mass of observation, his disciple Kepler was able to formulate the laws that govern the movement of planetary bodies. Similarly, in the study of personality it is necessary first of all to study the make-up of individual personalities before we can discover what is common to man in general.

Scientific research into extroversion and introversion has advanced by means of the personality test or questionnaire. There are many different forms of test, ranging from the interpretative Rorschach ink-blot to more up-to-date, mathematically-sound tests. Results in one test must be related to results in others and highly complex mathematical techniques are used to perform the necessary detailed calculations.

These are then programmed on computers so that the calculations can be made at great speed. The most widely used method is known as factor analysis, and it is as a result of the application of this particular technique that evidence has been put forward which confirms the earlier theories of extroversion and introversion.

Extensive research has also resulted in a theory of personality put forward by the British psychologist Professor Eysenck and his colleagues, with extroversion and introversion as one of its main tenets. They have constructed a number of tests which are designed to plot the individual's position along two dimensions of neuroticism and introversion/extroversion.

The Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI), and its more up-to-date version, the Psychoticism, extroversion and Neuroticism Inventory (PEN) are questionnaires with questions of the YES/NO type. Answers reflect certain personality traits . For example, if the question 'Do you feel more at home in a crowd than by yourself? ' receives the answer YES, then t his would indicate sociability, which itself is a characteristic part of an extroverted personality. By giving this questionnaire to a large number of people, it is possible to find out the average extroversion or neuroticism score for different groups.

Professor Eysenck has also carried out extensive research into both normal and abnormal populations, and as a result of scores on his questionnaires, he has been able to obtain a great deal of interesting and useful information. One of his most striking findings so far has been the high level of extroversion to be found among criminal populations.

Similar studies by other psychologists have also produced interesting results.

One test on first year students at the University of Minnesota showed that those who had been involved in traffic offenses obtained a higher score on the dimension of extroversion and neuroticism than other students; and another study at a London hospital showed that unmarried mothers also scored more highly along the same dimension than married mothers.

But how do such propensities arise?

Are extroversion and introversion inherited dispositions or learned forms of behavior?

It has been observed that, following a frontal leucotomy operation, in which part of the frontal lobe of the brain is removed, some patients show a subtle personality change. becoming more impulsive and more liable to emotional change in other words, more extroverted. Similar results have been found in experimental operations on monkeys and higher primates, and would indicate that there may indeed be an organic basis for personality.

There does seem to be some evidence for a hereditary basis to extroversion and introversion. But this is not to say that we cannot change our personalities. Many of our extroverted or introverted features may have been acquired by learning, and it is possible to change our behavior deliberately in the direction of either extroversion or introversion, should it be in our interests to do so. An inherited predisposition to extroversion merely means that in the blend of extrovert and introvert features that make up any particular personality, there will be a continual tendency for extrovert features to predominate. The introverted or extrovert type is therefore usually someone in whom introvert or extrovert traits are particularly dominant, and not someone who is completely of one type or another.

Research has confirmed what Jung originally believed - that we are all made up of a combination of introvert and extrovert characteristics, and that we are all at some point on that 'dimension'.

Further such scientific investigations into personality structure should help towards a greater understanding of the complexities of human behavior.


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    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Interesting analysis. I think I'm an introvert with some shades of extroversion. Voting this Up and Interesting.


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