Basic Info on Introverts and Introversion
Despite frequent insinuations to the contrary, even from Dr. Phil, introversion is not a disease, but rather a largely inborn way of relating to the world. It is estimated that as many as 40% of the population can be characterized as introverts, varying from very introverted individuals to “misguided” extroverts.
What is introversion?
Introversion and extroversion is THE most significant dimension on which we can measure human personality. But while the extrovert qualities are readily apparent in an extroverted culture, the introverted qualities are often harder to understand and so they are often defined by virtue of what they are NOT: Brash, free, sensation-seeking, rich in initiative, and action-oriented. These are all the things that introverts are NOT. But this does not mean that introverts do not have great qualities; it only means that these are harder to spot. However, typical qualities among introverts include:
- Independent in thought and action
- Original, thorough, concentrated
- Focused, conceptual, exclusive
Furthermore, a typical difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts “charge their batteries” (i.e. get their energy) from spending time alone. This is not something that the introverts have chosen; rather it seems to be a trait which is inherent in the very trait of being introverted. This is also the reason why introverts are typically able to work for longer and with more concentration than extroverts: They do not need the same number of breaks from the introspective work mode as it comes more naturally to them.
Related to this, we see in a larger societal context the infamous open plan offices. If we keep in mind that somewhere between 60 and 75% of the population consists of extroverts, we can understand the open plan office as an attempt to raise the outgoing employee’s efficiency by making the work mode more “extroverted”. For the typical inward-turned introvert, however, it is imperative to have his “cave” – that private place where you can retreat into your head and dedicate yourself to your own thoughts and feelings.
Is Introversion / Extroversion a Black / White Scale?
No. Since the 1920s, psychological science has made a conscientious effort to understand the introvert / extrovert dimension of human personality, and today all major psychometric tools and tests include this dimension. In scientific terms, introversion / extraversion is understood as a continuum, i.e. an axis from 0-100, on which every individual has a fixed location. Therefore, to have high a degree of introversion is necessarily equal to having low degree of extroversion, and vice versa. People are complex and inconsistent, which means that most of us will differ in our behavior from situation to situation, but over time, people remain fairly stable around their preferred degree of extroversion / introversion.
In addition, a small group of people seem to belong somewhere in the borderlands between the two characteristics and so these people are not properly at home as either introverts or extroverts. Because these people are located midway between the poles, scientific researchers tend to characterize them as ambiverts, but again it is important to note that this group represents only a minor anomaly.
There is now a convincing body of scientific data which pleads for the existence of the introvert / extrovert split, and research is moving in these years into biological areas such as heredity and brain differences: Fields in which the conclusions are still tentative, but which overall present a convincing picture of introversion and extroversion, as being, at least partly, related to neurology and genes.
What Does Introversion Mean Besides this?
If we stay in the scientific world for a moment longer, we see, among other things, that introverts have a stronger reaction to external stimuli compared to extroverts. In scientific tests that examined reactions to stimuli of taste, subjects’ taste buds were exposed to a drop of lemon juice, with the result that the introverts produced significantly more saliva than the extroverts. This conclusion is consistent with the fact that the introvert’s focus is typically inwardly directed: External influences thus appear as strangers and thus impact the introvert much more strongly. It is also related to the introvert’s need for time alone: Since introverts experience the outer world more strongly than the extrovert does, the introvert will be quickly fatigued and “filled” by external influences.
In another study of introversion, test subjects were placed in a totally white room with no windows and no decoration at all. Then, when the test subject was alone in this cell-like room, devoid of external stimuli, an electronic voice asked them to lie down and remain at rest for as long as possible. Sooner or later, everyone becomes restless, but nonetheless there was still a distinction: The introverts had a higher threshold for how long they could remain quiet than did the extroverts. In fact, the extroverts would wait for a much shorter period of time before they stood up and began to move restlessly around the cell. This fact touches upon the aforementioned work perseverance of introverts who are typically able to work for longer and with more concentration on their projects.
Are Introverts Smarter Than Extroverts?
No. In much of the literature, including the book “The Introvert Advantage“, the view that introverts, by the very fact that they are introverts, possess a depth in their work and interests that the extroverts presumably do not. Such prejudice has been ingrained since the first texts on introversion and extroversion dating back to ancient times. Modern science has been able to establish that a correlation does in fact exist between introversion and intelligence (IQ). However, a statistical correlation is not the same as a 1:1 overlap. Thus, among history’s greatest extroverted personalities we find: Socrates, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Michel Foucault, Bill Clinton, etc.
Thus, unless you actually intend to dismiss the founding of Western philosophy as an achievement, it is in fact a widespread misconception that the great thinker or artist is necessarily an introvert. Conversely, while most performers are extroverts, introverted artists such as Michael Jackson or Marilyn Manson are exceptions that confirm the rule. However, with the help of modern research, we now know that researchers and scholars are mostly introverted which may explain how the idea that introverts are always more intelligent was conceived in the first place ;-) – Nevertheless, various authors still argue that people with certain interests (such as academia) are bound to be introverts, like Rudolf Steiner schools who still peddle this (false) idea worldwide.