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Last updated: Sep 13, 2021
4 min read

Introvert vs. extrovert: decoding the differences and key traits

Introversion and extroversion (also known as extraversion) are two personality types that characterize how an individual processes thoughts, their decision-making, and social interactions—thus labeling themselves an “introvert” or an “extrovert.” However, within these two broad traits are subtypes that may shed light on why you are introverted during some social activities and extroverted in others.

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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

It’s no secret that no two humans are alike. 

While we certainly have our similarities, the way humans interact with others and process thoughts and emotions typically falls into two camps: being an introvert or being an extrovert. 

But there’s much more to introverts being classified as shy and extroverts as loud or wanting to be the center of attention. Here are the major personality traits of an introvert and extrovert and how to figure out which one you may be.

How are personality types determined?

Yes, some people are inherently boisterous or reserved, making it easy to pinpoint their personality type. Many people, however, may not know if they are an introvert or extrovert, or they may exhibit traits of both in certain situations. That’s where personality type tests can come in handy. 

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One of the most widely used self-test questionnaires is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This test helps individuals find their personality type based on the psychological outlines created by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. The questions in this test guide people to understand how they make decisions, their social preferences, how they respond to certain stimuli, and their viewpoint of the world (The Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2021).

What is an introvert?

Being introverted isn’t as simple as it may seem. There isn’t one universal definition for this personality type. In fact, there are four subtypes of introversion (Cheek, 2011): 

  • Social introversion: This subtype refers to how comfortable individuals are in certain social situations, such as how and who they celebrate special occasions like birthdays with and whether alone time during the day is important to them. (For social introverts, this is often scheduled into their daily routine.)
  • Thinking introversion: Thinking introverts spend time analyzing themselves and prefer to ruminate thoughts and opinions inwardly rather than share them with others.
  • Anxious introversion: Anxious introversion is based on how a person feels in social situations. Those who have this trait may lack self-confidence in large groups or be particularly shy. 
  • Inhibited or restrained introversion: Restrained introverts make decisions carefully and slowly and tend not to act impulsively. They may also prefer to plan their actions out instead of letting things fall as they may.  

What is an extrovert?

Extroverts can often be easy to spot—they have an overwhelming sense of agreeableness, can’t stop talking in social settings, or feel comfortable making small talk among strangers in social gatherings. But like introverts, there are some key differences among the extroverted.

There are two broad types of extroversion, and they determine how the high, positive emotions often linked with extroverts are exhibited (Grodin, 2015):

  • Agentic extroversion: This subtype has a solid link to assertiveness and persistence. Those with agentic extroversion often take on leadership roles and find motivation through incentives, whether in their personal or professional lives. 
  • Affiliative extroversion: This is a trait that is highly social and overly affectionate. They are described as affectionate, warm, or gregarious to others, no matter how familiar they are in their surroundings.

Like the subtypes found in introverts, each extrovert group (agentic and affiliative) may have its own subtypes based on social skills, cognitive processes, anxieties, and inhibitions. So, while overall extroverts display higher levels of positive and outward emotional traits, how they are processed vary based on which type of extrovert an individual may be (Grodin, 2015).

What is an ambivert?

Suppose you have a hard time putting yourself into the introvert or extrovert box. In that case, you may be an ambivert—someone who has personality traits that are considered introverted and extroverted. And you’re not alone, as research has found over half of the population falls into this middle-of-the-road category (Georgiev, 2014).

Ambiverts may be introverted and also exhibit extroverted tendencies depending on the situation. For example, an ambivert may be introverted in social situations, coming off timid or bashful and extroverted in their inhibitions, willing to try something new even if they aren’t the most social or vocal while doing it (Georgiev, 2014).

It’s not that ambiverts are indecisive in how they want to act or think or that they suffer from imposter syndrome, trying their best to be introverted or extroverted. Instead, it all comes down to how our brains are wired, which impacts all personality types. Just like certain parts of the brain are activated in introverts and extroverts, ambiverts experience different brain activation processes, which influences things like cognitive reasoning and behaviors (Georgiev, 2014).

It’s thanks to this unique brain wiring which influences whether or not we are largely introverts, extroverts, or ambiverts.

References

  1. The Myers & Briggs Foundation – MBTI® Basics. (2021). Retrieved September 2, 2021 from https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
  2. Cheek, J. M., Grimes, J. O., Norem, J. K. (2011). Four meanings of introversion: Social, thinking, anxious, and inhibited introversion. Retrieved September 16, 2021 https://www.academia.edu/7353616/Four_Meanings_of_Introversion_Social_Thinking_Anxious_and_Inhibited_Introversion
  3. Grodin, E., & White, T. (2015). The neuroanatomical delineation of agentic and affiliative extraversion. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 15(2), 321-334. doi: 10.3758/s13415-014-0331-6. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25712871/
  4. Georgiev, S., Venelinova, C., et.al. (2014). Ambiversion as independent personality characteristic. Activitas Nervosa Superior Rediviva, 56(3-4), 65-72. Retrieved from http://www.rediviva.sav.sk/56i3/65.pdf