Introverts, Extroverts & Ambiverts

Introversion and extroversion are terms first coined by psychiatrist Carl Jung in Switzerland in the 1920s. According to Jung, an extrovert seeks intensive contact with the outside world and an introvert instead turns the psychic energy inwards. Jung believed that no one is a hundred percent extrovert or a hundred percent introvert instead we carry both traits however most minds tend to lean either to one side or the other. If both characteristics are equally present, we can speak of someone who has an ambivert personality.  In the 1960s the psychologist Hans Eysenck added to Carl Jung’s ideas. He argued that the main difference between introverts and extroverts lies in the way they gain and recharge their mental energy. By Nature, introverted people have a higher level of brain activity and therefore feel a greater need to shield themselves from external stimuli. By withdrawing themselves they gain mental energy. The neuronal activity of extroverts is lower. They overcome this lack by exposing themselves to external stimulation this charges their inner batteries.

To illustrate the difference let’s compare two imaginary children: Jose is extroverted. He loves to be surrounded by classmates. He enjoys being the center of attention and loves to talk to his buddies about all kinds of stuff. He organizes football games with strangers and right after is open to playing ping-pong with someone else. By seeking social stimuli, he gains mental energy. Lisa is introverted. As others play around in the park, she often enjoys sitting alone watching. At home, she plants herbs in the garden, all by herself. She slowly becomes a real expert in this field but that’s her secret. To recharge her batteries Lisa needs peace and quiet time. Introverts are not necessarily shy, even if it appears so, they like to walk away from small talk. Lisa in fact is not shy at all. She is not afraid to talk to anyone, not even seniors. When too many people are around and the conversations become superficial or confusing, she gets super tired. Her strategy is to fade out and go inside herself to recharge through silence. Jose loves to have many people around him, to jump from one conversation to the next stimulates him. Some experts claim that extroverts and introverts use different brain areas to form their thoughts.

An extrovert tends to use short term memory and therefore can come to fast associations. Jose therefore talks fast and a lot. He appears smart because his brain always offers an answer quickly. However, he often speaks before he thinks and later changes his mind. Someone like Lisa works with her brain to carefully retrieve information from her long-term memory. Her thoughts are more complex and hence need more time to develop. She therefore thinks first and then speaks. If the two were asked for directions by a tourist Lisa would spend time thinking about the best answer while Jose would have already come up with different kinds of options.

Good teachers and clever business leaders know about the different nature of introverts and extroverts and try to develop their strengths. When raising questions, they ask everyone to think for a minute in silence before answering. Extroverts then learn to formalize their thoughts before they speak and introverts get more talking time to practice public speaking. At brainstorming they use a formal process or a talking stick to make sure Lisa gets to participate. Group projects can be formalized to support both temperaments. In one project extroverts and introverts work together. Jose then learns from Lisa how to think ideas over to develop more complex thoughts. Lisa in return benefits from Jose’s fast association skills and learns to think and speak more flexibly.

In the next project the same temperaments would then work together. They get to see their own traits in the opposite person. If confronted with problems in teams of the same character, introverts need to speak up and extroverts are forced to think before they proceed. The educator Rudolf Steiner was a proponent of this method for his Waldorf Schools. Research on temperament in toddlers showed that many character traits we are born with make it into adulthood. He presented babies with different stimuli like loud sounds and bad smells. Around 20% of the babies cried or got nervous, 40% stayed relaxed and the other 40% were somewhere in between. Another test, years later with the same children, showed that those babies who didn’t react strongly turned out to be extroverted. On the other end of the spectrum, those that did began to show traits of introversion. So, which are you: Introvert, Extrovert or Ambivert?

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