What Is an Introvert Personality?

When you hear the word introvert, you might think of someone who's shy or quiet and prefers to be alone. While that may be true for some introverts, there's much more to this personality type. Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert all depends on how you process the world around you.

A psychologist named Carl Jung began using the terms introvert and extrovert (sometimes spelled extravert) in the 1920s. These two personality types sort people into how they get or spend their energy. Introverts, Jung said, turn to their own minds to recharge, while extroverts seek out other people for their energy needs.

Signs You Might Be an Introvert

Around one-third to one-half of all people in the U.S. are introverts. Though it looks different in everyone, introverts have many of the same patterns of behavior. In general, introverts:

  • Need quiet to concentrate
  • Are reflective
  • Take time making decisions
  • Feel comfortable being alone
  • Don't like group work
  • Feel tired after being in a crowd
  • Have few friendships, but are very close with these friends
  • Daydream or use their imaginations to work out a problem
  • Retreat into their own mind to rest

One way to find out if you're an introvert is to take a test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the SAPA project.

Introvert Brains

Scientists don't know for sure if there's a cause for introversion or extroversion. What they do know is the brains of the two personality types work a little differently from each other. Researchers have found that introverts have a higher blood flow to their frontal lobe than extroverts do. This part of the brain helps you remember things, solve problems, and plan ahead.

Introvert brains also react differently to dopamine than extrovert brains do. That's a chemical that turns on the reward- and pleasure-seeking part of your brain. Introverts and extroverts have the same amount of the chemical, but extrovert brains get an excited buzz from their reward center. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to just feel run-down by it.

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Types of Introverts

Being an introvert isn't an all-or-nothing stamp on your personality. Psychologists think of introverts as falling somewhere on a scale. Some people are more introverted than others. Other people fall right in the middle of the scale. They're called ambiverts.

Introverts usually have a few extroverted traits mixed in with their introverted ones, and vice versa. There are a wide range of ways to be an introvert.

One study shows that introverts tend to fall into one of four subtypes:

Social introverts. This is the "classic" type of introvert. Social introverts like small groups and quiet settings over crowds.

Thinking introverts. People in this group are daydreamers. They spend a lot of time in their thoughts and tend to have creative imaginations.

Anxious introverts. They seek out alone time not just because they like it, but also because they often feel awkward or shy around people.

Restrained/inhibited introverts. These introverts think before they act. They aren't likely to make a decision on a whim. Typically they take longer to take action.

Your introverted ways may change over time, and in different settings, too. You're not likely to swing from introvert to extrovert. But it's possible you could become more or less introverted, depending on what's going on in your life.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella on September 24, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

The Myers and Briggs Foundation: "Extravert and Introvert," "Take the MBTI Instrument."

Explore: "Introverts: A Defense."

Center for Applications of Psychological Type: "Estimated Frequencies of the Types in the United States Population," "Can You Change Your Personality Type?"

Applied Cognitive Psychology: "The effect of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts."

The SAPA Project.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: "The Origins of Extraversion: Joint Effects of Facultative Calibration and Genetic Polymorphism."

The American Journal of Psychiatry: "Cerebral blood flow and personality: a positron emission tomography study."

The Behavioral and Brain Sciences: "Neurobiology of the structure of personality: dopamine, facilitation of incentive motivation, and extraversion."

Nebylitsyn, VD, Biological Bases of Individual Behavior, Academic Press, 2013.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2011.

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