Introversion is a stable and heritable personality dimension characterized by a preference for quiet settings and for being alone. This does not mean that introverts are unfriendly, lethargic, or cold; instead, they are better described as reserved and even-paced, more likely to be involved in low, rather than high, stimulation tasks. Introversion is considered to be the opposite of extraversion. It is different from shyness in that anxiety and fear of social situations that describe shyness is absent in introversion.
The term was invented by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He used it to refer to people who followed their own inner promptings and beliefs, rather than just going along with the crowd. This original meaning has somewhat been lost in the emphasis on being sociable and outgoing, but some people still use it in that way.
Measurement of Introversion
Two most common ways of measuring introversion are the NEO (Neuroticism-Extroversion-Openness) Personality Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The former, which emphasizes the new concept as being outgoing, is most commonly used in research and academic settings, while the latter, which is based on Jung’s theories, is most widely used in business and industrial settings. Both measure introversion as the opposing pole of extraversion. The Social Introversion scale of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 is a third commonly used measure of introversion.
Life-Span Development of Introversion
Introversion is generally stable across the life span, although estimates of the amount of stability vary widely, from .3 to .8. One of the reasons for the relative stability across the life span may be that introversion is, in part, biologically based and genetically inherited, although estimates on the amount of heritability also vary widely. One theory of biological basis for introversion proposes a neural mechanism that renders extraverts underaroused and make introverts more sensitive to stimulation. Consequently, introverts avoid loud, exciting social situations in an effort to avoid excessive stimulation, contradicting assumptions that introverts avoid such situations because they are unfriendly, shy, or experience social anxiety. A second theory emphasizes the differences in impulsivity, such that introverts are low on their reactivity to stimuli and high on their inhibitory systems, therefore rendering them to inhibit their behaviors and curtail impulsivity.
Demographics of Introverts
In the United States, the population is about evenly split between extraverts and introverts. Although extraverted behavior is often encouraged by American culture, introverted preferences, such as engaging in self-reflection, are generally accepted as normal. In recent years, the Internet has provided a unique opportunity for introverts to socialize in a way that appeals to their personality. One factor that may lead to this comfort level is the ability to easily regulate one’s level of interaction with others.
Furthermore, while happiness is often associated with extraverts, a substantial portion of introverts do lead very satisfying and happy lives. This may be because happiness has a strong link to both fulfillment and emotional stability. Introverts can lead very fulfilling lives by focusing on what pleases them— usually this includes solitary pursuits and building intimate relationships with a select group of friends, as well as some of the activities also enjoyed by extraverts.
- John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality (pp. 102-138). New York: Guilford Press.