Working out whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or a mix of both, can be an important part of exploring, understanding, and accepting who you are.
It can explain more about how you like to interact with the world, and where you get your energy from – helping you to manage a wide range of experiences. Gaining a deeper understanding of different personality types can also allow you to communicate more effectively with others.
For a long time, it was widely believed that people could either be introverted or extroverted and nothing in between. Another belief was that introverts are painfully shy, and extroverts are bubbly and outgoing. But, in reality, human personalities are much more complicated than that – and psychologists have since dispelled these strict labels as myths.
Experts now think it can be more useful to think of introversion or extroversion as sitting at opposite ends of a scale. And where each of us falls on that scale is guided by how we prefer to gain and direct our energy.
With this in mind, we’ll explore where the terms extrovert and introvert came from, what they mean, and how you can uncover more about your own personality type, or the personality types of those around you.
Where did the terms ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ come from?
Theories about introversion and extroversion became popular in 1921 when Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung published a paper on personality types.
At the time, Jung was looking to find out more about therapeutic relationships, and how the personality of the therapist could affect the way that they interacted with their clients.
He initially grouped people into two opposing categories; introverts (who prefer to direct their energy inwards towards doing more thoughtful, solitary activities) and extroverts (who direct their energy towards others and prefer being around people to being alone). Jung also believed that both groups gained energy from doing their preferred activities.
But it wasn’t long before Jung realised that people’s personalities were far too complex to fit neatly into just two categories and that no one was 100% one or the other.
Later in the century, psychologist Hans Eysenck explored Jung’s theories of introversion and extroversion further. He believed that how introverted or extroverted a person is was dependent on how responsive or stimulated they were by their surroundings.
Eysenck suggested that introverts needed a much lower level of stimulation to become satisfied than extroverts, who needed more excitement.
This means that while an introvert might be happier going for a quiet dinner with one friend, an extrovert might get more enjoyment from going to dinner with a large group.
Scientists have since backed up Eysenck’s theory with brain scans. These scans show that people who consider themselves to be more introverted have thicker prefrontal cortices (which are associated with planning and deep thinking) than extroverts, who are thought to be more impulsive.
Today, many of us are familiar with the words ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ – though we still tend to use them to describe people who are either shy or more talkative, which gives us a very narrow (and not necessarily accurate) view of who someone is.
So, below, we’ll take a closer look at what health experts say the introvert-extrovert scale actually looks like, and why wherever you sit is just a normal and natural part of what makes you uniquely you!
What is an introvert?
Introverts tend to be quieter and more reserved. They’ll often focus their energy inwards and spend a lot of time engaging in deep thought, and processing what’s going on around them.
Many introverts find that they need time alone to relax and recharge after spending time around other people. This is because they expend energy in social situations, rather than gaining it as extroverts do.
Because introverts have lower levels of extroversion, other personality traits might include…
Preferring listening rather than speaking (and learning by watching)
Being quieter and more reserved in larger social settings
Having a small, close-knit group of friends
Working better on their own
Avoiding being in situations where they are the centre of attention (for example, at birthday parties or in front-of-house job roles)
Getting distracted or overwhelmed by too much stimulation
Introverts also tend to be very self-aware and will spend time examining their own experiences and learning more about who they are. Research also suggests that introverts may feel emotions more intensely and have a tough time managing them.
People with introverted personalities might also find themselves ‘zoning out’ to escape from stressful or chaotic situations – almost like a survival mechanism.
There’s a common misconception that introverts are always shy, socially awkward, or anxious, but being introverted doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is any of these things – rather, that they simply process their surroundings in a different way. Some people will also be more or less introverted than others; with some having extroverted tendencies too.
What is an extrovert?
Extroverts often have more outgoing personalities and thrive off interaction with others. Because extroverts gain energy from being around other people, they often won’t need much time alone and prefer being in social settings. An extrovert may feel drained or uninspired if they spend too much time by themselves.
People with an extroverted personality may actively seek out social stimulation and feel confident introducing themselves to new people or walking into unfamiliar situations.
Additional personality traits of someone with an extroverted personality might include…
Having a larger social circle and many acquaintances
Feeling comfortable in large social groups (and maybe even being the ring leader for organising social events)
Expressing themselves openly and preferring to discuss problems to get advice and guidance
Being spontaneous and having the ability to adapt to situations quickly
Enjoying working as part of a group
Being optimistic, outgoing, and less likely to dwell on problems
According to research, extroverts might also be willing to take more risks because their brains are wired to reward them with dopamine if all goes well. In contrast, it’s believed that introverts can be overstimulated by too much dopamine, and so don’t feel the need to seek out as many new and exciting situations.
However, as we’ve previously mentioned, extroversion is a scale and some extroverts will have introverted traits.
To gain a better understanding of what an extroverted personality might be like, it’s worth having a read of this article from Healthline.
What is an ambivert?
If it’s tricky for you to decide whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you might be an ‘ambivert’.
Ambiverts – also known as ‘extroverted introverts’ – may display both introverted and extroverted behaviours. For example, they might love going out and being the life and soul of the party or curling at home alone with a good book.
Ambiverts might have some ‘me time’ every now and then, but can be just as happy socialising with others as they can spending time with themselves. And socialising helps the ambivert appreciate the value of a quiet night in.
Those with ambivert personalities are also versatile and can adapt their behaviour to fit the situation they’re in. They know when to tone down their gregariousness and when to turn things up a notch to match the energy of the people around them. Different people will often have different descriptions of who an ambivert is.
Other traits that could indicate that someone has an ambivert personality include…
Seeing socialising as productive but tiring. They can be outgoing and lively at social events but will need time to rest and recharge afterwards.
Feeling drained by spending too much energy alone or with other people – they need a balance of both.
Having lots of friends but only a handful of close ones.
Enjoying a balance of both independent and group work.
Loving a good chat but appreciating comfortable silence too.
Scientists estimate that around two-thirds of us are ambiverts; meaning we can move up and down the extrovert-introvert scale with ease. And while being an ambivert comes with many benefits – such as being versatile and having the ability to gain people’s trust easily – many ambiverts also say that they feel pressure to live up to people’s interpretations of who they are, which can be tiring.
This article from Healthline has more information about ambivert personalities, which you might find useful.
Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert?
You may already have a good idea about whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert and how this affects your interactions with the world. Though the reality is that most of us will fall somewhere in the middle.
It’s also possible to change personalities over time; perhaps you were an introvert as a child but now consider yourself to be an extrovert, or vice versa.
Studies also suggest that whether we’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert is also down to genetics and how our brain responds to dopamine. People who are more sensitive to dopamine are likely to become overwhelmed by it and may be more introverted. While those who thrive on the dopamine response may be more extroverted.
Understanding our personality type can be useful for a number of reasons. For example, it can help us to make sense of our reactions, understand what makes us happy, and get the most out of our experiences in life.
However, it can help not to think of personality type as something that’s set in stone, but rather something that’s fluid and linked to how you evolve and grow as an individual.
Psychologist Adam Grant says, “No matter your type, flexibility is a quality we can all embrace. Think of your personality as serving like an anchor — instead of constraining you, it keeps you from drifting too far as you pursue new possibilities.”
If you want to get more insight into whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, you can take Adam Grant’s quiz here.