Discover more from Introvert UpThink
Introvert FAQs: 11 Frequently Asked Questions About Introversion
My answers to some fundamental questions about introverts
How would you define introversion?
An introvert is someone who 1)loses energy around other people and recharges best when they are alone or with one or two intimate friends; 2)has a lower capacity for external stimulation than extroverts; and 3)tends to focus more on thoughts, feelings and perceptions than on interaction with other people.
In contrast, extroverts thrive on social interaction while losing energy in solitude; prefer stimulating activities to peaceful calm; and consider being with other people “real life.” These are inborn temperamental differences that tend not to change much over a lifetime.
Is being an introvert the same as being shy?
No. Psychologists define shyness as a fear of social interactions with strangers and worry about being judged or rejected by others. Although introverts may be naturally quiet and reserved, they don’t necessarily exhibit shyness. Thus there are shy extroverts, shy introverts and individuals of both personality types who are not shy.
A shy extrovert enjoys and appreciates social interaction yet feels awkward or fearful about joining in. A shy introvert dreads social interaction and would rather be at home reading or working on their bug collection.
Introverts who are not shy can easily start a conversation with a stranger and comfortably express their ideas publicly. But they need to feel that such efforts are worth the trouble. Eleanor Roosevelt and fellow introvert Amelia Earhart both skillfully gave speeches and agitated for social change, but they once gleefully snuck out of a White House dinner together and flew from Washington DC to Baltimore and back with Earhart piloting. True non-shy introvert behavior!
What causes someone to be an introvert or an extrovert?
Researchers have identified neurological and brain differences between introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend to have higher levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter which is involved in focused attention and internal processing. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to have higher levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward-seeking behavior and pleasure.
Also, in comparison with extroverts, introverts have a thicker prefrontal cortex – more tissue in the area of the brain associated with thinking and decision-making. This accounts for why introverts prefer to mull over the circumstances before reacting whereas extroverts are more geared to respond quickly to changing situations.
As for why these differences exist, the best explanation seems to be genetics. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, babies’ personalities begin to emerge at age 4 to 7 months. “Their activity levels, their persistence, and their adaptability” become more and more distinct.
Can someone get training, medication or therapy to change from being an introvert to being an extrovert?
No, introverts cannot be re-engineered to become extroverts. Think of it as like handedness. Although left-handed people can be trained to do things with their right hand (and vice versa for righties), that doesn’t change their inborn preference. While introverts can learn to interact with others as if they were extroverts, this tires them out and may make them feel inauthentic.
In a survey I did of self-identified introverts, 75 percent said that they could pretend to be an extrovert very well or somewhat well when something important was at stake. But this didn’t change their knowledge that they were introverts. Recharging their energy in solitude or with a small number of intimates remained necessary for them.
Is being an introvert a kind of disability?
No and yes.
On the one hand, there isn’t anything physically, medically, psychologically or emotionally impaired in those who have an introverted personality. Introverts are generally capable of doing what extroverts do (and vice versa); it’s just that the two personality types have different preferences, and it may take extra energy for someone to override their natural preferences.
On the other hand, in American society introverts who respect their preferences may find themselves at a disadvantage – in school, in job seeking and in getting their needs met without conflict. In that culture, introverts tend to be viewed as “less than.” This disadvantage stems from customs and prejudice, not from biology.
Is introversion another name for having social anxiety?
No. Social anxiety involves an intense, persistent and debilitating fear of being observed and judged by others. Introverts don’t necessarily feel this fear. Some do and many most definitely do not. Social anxiety can be treated via medication, gradual exposure to the feared situations and cognitive behavioral therapy. Introversion does not need any such treatment. For more information, see the National Institute of Mental Health’s information page on social anxiety.
When meeting someone for the first time, what’s a dead giveaway to whether or not they’re an introvert?
With some people who have an air of self-possession and reserve, I can correctly tell in an instant that they’re introverted. However, many introverts in business or public life have developed such social graceor charisma that you wouldn’t know their real personality unless you knew whether they went home energized or depleted from a big wedding, conference or group tour.
By the same token, I’ve observed chatterboxes behind the counter at the drug store or in line at the supermarket and known at once that they were extroverts. I’ve written more about guessing people’s personality right away on Introvert UpThink. Much of the time you’ll need to get to know someone before knowing their personality.
Why are so many introverts rude or unfriendly?
That’s a matter of perspective. On Planet Extrovert, an open attitude toward others is obligatory, except in a dangerous situation. If someone makes a well-meaning comment toward you, you are supposed to smile and continue the conversation. Those who don’t behave this way are considered rude. Likewise, those who go along pursuing their private agenda without catering to the interests or feelings of others come across in that world as rude.
However, on Planet Introvert, keeping to oneself is the default behavior. If a stranger says “Good Morning” to an introvert, they may feel no obligation to respond in kind. They might return the greeting if the stranger is someone they see regularly and have a good feeling about, but not because they’re inclined to be friendly and sociable in general. From this point of view, minding one’s own business is a natural and good way to be in the world.
The attitude of minding one’s own business can easily be misinterpreted as rude, self-centered, arrogant or unfriendly. But introverts don’t necessarily consider themselves superior and don’t go out of their way to be hurtful. They may prefer to listen than to talk, find small talk rather pointless and would rather save meaningful conversation for those they already deeply trust. So if an introvert in your sphere seems rude or unfriendly, stop and think whether you’re simply expecting them to be as socially involved and gregarious as you are.
Is there a free test that can indicate whether or not I’m an introvert?
Yes, several. Try these three free personality assessments:
Are some people neither introverts nor extroverts – that is, right down the middle?
Yes. In personality tests, ambiverts hover at midway between introvert and extrovert. Note also that some people feel and behave like introverts in certain situations and like extroverts in others. Human beings vary! The introvert/extrovert distinction shouldn’t be understood as dividing people into one strict category or the other.
What books do you recommend for understanding myself as an introvert – or understanding my child/boss/spouse/friend who is one?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Introvert: The Friendly Takeover by Linus Jonkman
Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
If you have additional questions that you feel ought to be answered on this FAQ page, or would like to take issue with what I’ve said here, please let me know.