Introversion and extraversion are personality traits lying at opposite ends of a spectrum. Some people fit with one extreme or another, but many people fall somewhere in the middle. While societal expectations might make it seems like introversion is rare, it’s actually not.
Introversion & extraversion – what’s the difference?
Much of the difference between the two comes down to energy – where someone tends to focus it, and how they recharge it.
Introverts tend to focus more of their energy and interest inward, and they recharge their batteries with alone time. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need social connections. People who are introverted can feel lonely just as much as extraverted people can. The social support is still important, but it may be accessed in a different way.
Extraverts are more outwardly focused, and being around others energizes them. For extraverts, small talk may just be part and parcel of creating social connections, and they thrive off of that social energy. For introverts, on the other hand, small talk may feel like a lot of work.
Introversion isn’t social anxiety
Introversion is sometimes confused with shyness and social anxiety disorder, but they’re actually separate constructs. Social phobia doesn’t just happen to introverts; it can happen to extraverts too.
One important difference between introversion and social anxiety is that introversion can feel very comfortable if you accept that it’s the way you are, whereas there’s no comfort in social anxiety disorder.
What are the stats?
PositivePyschology.com cites some statistics related to introversion. A few studies have shown an approximately 50:50 split between introverts and extraverts. A 2014 study of over 3000 people used a 5-point scale to represent the introvert-extravert spectrum. A small percentage of respondents identified as highly extraverted or highly introverted, and most fell somewhere in the middle, as shown below.
|Extraverted (1)||2||3||4||Introverted (5)|
One study found a higher proportion of librarians were introverted. In another study, a small majority of lawyers were introverted, but certain areas of law, such as labour law, tended to draw more extraverts. Likely, other career areas also have a tendency to draw more of one or the other.
Overall, though, it looks like introversion is very common, but we live in a society that, at least for the most part, expects extraverted behaviour.
A mismatch to social expectations
I think that a mismatch between personality and expected behaviour can cause a lot of dissonance in people who are quite introverted. The external pressure to be social fights with the inner drive to have alone time, and somehow a behavioural compromise must be found.
Social pressure to perform as expected can be pretty strong, so there are probably a lot of introverts roaming around in the world behaving as though they’re extraverts. While this makes the extraverted people satisfied, other introverts may feel like they’re in the minority, because everyone else appears to be extraverted.
I think it would be nice if we shifted towards a more balanced social model, where it’s acceptable to behave in ways consistent with extraversion or introversion. It would be nice for it to be socially acceptable to decline invitations to certain types of gatherings. Why should extraverts get all the social rule-making powers when there are just as many introverts?
The power of acceptance
Given that introversion is quite common, if introversion feels uncomfortable, it’s not because you’re different from everyone else. There are a lot of people who are in the same boat, at least some of the time. Maybe the way around the discomfort is acceptance of your introversion. Your preferred way of socializing is just as valid as anyone else’s, and just because you feel like people expect you to conform to expectations of extraversion doesn’t mean you have to do so.
Personally, I embrace my introversion. The older I’ve gotten, the less inclined I am to pretend otherwise. And small talk? No thank you. Give me guinea pigs over humans any day.
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.