Psychologist Carl Jung has attracted many believers who accept his definitions of introvert and extrovert as gospel. But his conclusions don’t necessarily hold true in the eyes of contemporary social scientists convinced that these two personality types are simply too – well, simple.
In fact, researchers now think that most people fall somewhere in the middle and they’ve got the data to prove it. Confused? You won’t be by the time you finish reading this article.
What Jung really said…
Has the scientific community been lying to us for decades? In a way. Bottom line is that social sciences tend to deal in absolutes, so that’s how trained and untrained people have come to assume that introverts are shy loners, happiest when they’re not forced to be in crowds, while extroverts are party animals; folk who never met a social setting they didn’t enjoy until the last guest left the room.
We don’t mean to burst your bubble, in this day and age of advanced thinking, absolutes aren’t necessarily always right, and if you dig deeply enough, you may even learn that Jung was willing to give credence to a middle ground, uttering this little-known statement: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert,” said Jung. “Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum”!
How’s that for an eye-opening conclusion by the guy most people believe saw the world as black and white rather than grey?
Are we born introverts or extroverts?
Genetics provide clues that drove Jung’s research forward and the gauntlet has now been assumed by those eager to expand upon the introvert/extrovert-focused body of science that now states that people who are outgoing or shy are actually seeking either so our brains feel a sense of well-being as we recharge our mental batteries.
According to writer Belle Beth Cooper, every human acts instinctively to environmental extremes, so depending upon the way your brain is wired, you’re going to seek the one that allows your brain to feel most at home.
If you’re an introvert, says Cooper, you require dedicated time alone to recharge your brain because you lose energy from spending too much time in the company of others, whether small groups or large crowds.
On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of being in the company of an enthusiastic crowd — the bigger the better — your brain already has enough energy and requires no recharge time.
As a matter of fact, when extroverts spend too much time alone, they lose energy like a balloon that’s been pricked with a pin.
Identify your type
Need a simple way of understanding the difference between these two personality types? This one is memorable: After a full day on the job, extroverts like nothing better than de-stressing by running with friends.
Introverts can’t wait to run alone because they’re still dealing with the stress of being with people all day on the job!
Remember: that brain recharging thing is out of your control. Want to know where you fit into the scheme of things? See how you feel about these 12 criteria:
You could be an extrovert if you:
- Love the post-marathon party even more than the running event itself because you’re in your element.
- Are the running club member who insists on taking the lead whenever group action is required.
- Tell a great story about how you managed to trip over your feet just as the marathon finish line came into view.
- Interact with your running peeps so enthusiastically, it’s hard to sleep afterwards because you’re so buzzed.
- Are always happy to introduce yourself to newcomers because you never met a stranger you didn’t like.
- Are often described as “approachable” by others, which is why you have many friends in your inner circle.
You could be an introvert if you:
- Can barely function without daily alone time and rely on solo runs to keep you on an even keel.
- Have some friends, but not a lot, because you’re perfectly comfortable with just a few good pals.
- Are often described as the quiet, deliberate runner, happy to hit the trail with great music and the dog.
- Become energised and creative when nobody’s around because your brain works best that way.
- Find that social gatherings exhaust you physically and mentally, yet reading recharges your batteries.
- Are the person team members and friends turn to because they know you keep confidences.
Don’t recognise yourself?
If you found yourself straddling those 12 descriptors, you have lots of company. You may belong to a third group: ambiverts. Travis Bradberry, co-author of the best-selling book, “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” says that Jung’s theory is out of touch because it focused only on extreme personality typing.
Wharton University researcher Adam Grant evaluated introverts and extroverts and proved that humans aren’t that polarized.
In his opinion, gut reactions to situations always determine how a person reacts to being surrounded with too few or too many people and he’s also discovered that when we are in our comfort zone, alone or not so much, the feel-good hormone dopamine floods the body.
If you have plenty, you probably can’t wait to join the post-marathon party. If you don’t have enough dopamine, your instinctual reaction is to seek solitude as fast as possible.
Are you an ambivert?
Researchers exploring the theory that most of us are ambiverts describe the dichotomy each of us may experience that fails to place us squarely in either the extrovert or introvert category. Here are typical ambivert behaviours:
- Sometimes, you want nothing more than to run alone; other times, it’s fun to run with a friend.
- Your honey swears you never stop talking at home, but your running peers call you a person of few words.
- You don’t mind being congratulated, but if compliments drone on too long, you’re eager to dodge the spotlight.
- Showing up at a team celebration is fun, but you have no desire to be the last person standing when it ends.
- Engaging in small talk is fine for a short time; if it continues too long, the urge to slip away can be strong.
- You’re happiest when you get alone time when you need it, and in company when you crave a recharge.
- Your level of trust is determined by others’ behaviours; sometimes you’re sceptical, sometimes, you’re not.
- You react negatively to extremes: boredom sets in after too much alone time, but the company of too many people for too long can exhaust you.
It’s anybody’s guess where this topic will take social scientists in the years ahead, but for the moment, where do you put yourself on this personality continuum: introvert, extrovert or ambivert?