Monday, May 30, 2011

Introversion, Extroversion, or Both? (in which I get my geek on)

Before I launch into today's festival of nerdishness, I'd like to:
  1. Thank all the individuals, past and present, who have served in the United States military, and on this day, remember and honor those who gave their lives in the service of this country. Amidst the barbeque and the giddiness over the beginning of the summer season, let's take some time to remember the reason this day is a holiday.
  2. Thank each of you. Saturday was my six-month blogoversary, and since the end of last November, nearly 300 of you have become followers of this blog. I'm really touched by all your comments and participation, and I'll keep working hard to make The Strangest Situation worth your time.
NOW: Introversion vs. Extroversion.

On Friday, I asked you if you were one or the other or both. A significant majority of you (24 out of 37, or 65%), indicated you were introverts. Many of you used phrases like "100%" or "hands down", indicating you're quite definitely introverted. Several of you referenced your Myers-Briggs Type (I have GOT to do a post on that thing, and I will sometime this summer)--and they all started with "I".

Now, this shouldn't be surprising, right? Most of us are writers. And ... generally, writing is a pursuit that includes a lot of activity between the ears. Yes, to be good, you've got to get out of your own head and get others involved, but a lot of the process is solitary. In other words, we are NOT a randomly selected sample. If you polled individuals in the House of Representatives or actors on Broadway, you'd probably get a different result.

If any of you are wondering, yes, I am most definitely an introvert. When I was in college, I took Personality Psychology, and the professor handed out personality inventory results for the entire class (we'd all been assigned numbers, so no one was publicly outed or anything). But my number ... was on the extreme end of the continuum. According to that test, I was the most introverted person in that class of 40 people.

That doesn't mean I'm not socially skilled or don't enjoy being with other people. I do. I'm also quite a good public speaker, and I actually enjoy that kind of thing as long as I know what I'm talking about. However--I dislike parties and crowds. They wear me out quickly. I am easily overwhelmed by both the social expectations and the sensory stimulation. And in general, I am happiest when I have A LOT of alone time.

Many of you said very similar things. Quite a few of you were asking questions or stating you had tendencies toward both extraversion and introversion. In other words, you were saying you didn't fall neatly into either category. A lot of you were really trying to puzzle out "which one" you were--introvert or extrovert.

Now--if you are to believe a lot of these "personality type" tests, personality traits would be distributed like this:

This is a cute little bimodal distribution.

If this was the reality, most people fall into one category or another, and only a few people would fall in between. But is that the way things are?

No. Here's the way things are:

Personality traits like introversion-extroversion are normally distributed. MOST people fall somewhere in the middle (about 68%). In other words, if you randomly selected a hundred people from the general population and gave them a test that measured introversion-extroversion, only a few would come out as extremely introverted or extroverted.

Admittedly, if you take our little sample, our curve would probably look more like this:

This is an adorable positively skewed distribution.
As a group, we are probably more introverted than the general population. Even so, most of us will have scores that fall somewhere in between. We're not one or the other!

We're on a continuum.

 So! Don't feel bad if you couldn't figure out what type you are, or if you felt like you had qualities of both, or if you are an introvert in some situations/moods and not in others. I'm quite sure you're right. And if you think about this as a continuum, it might make it easier.

On Wednesday, I'll talk more about introversion-extroversion as it relates to social media.  But for today--does this make sense? Are you more comfortable thinking about introversion-extroversion (or any persoanlity trait) as a continuum rather than a category you have to fall into? Or do you feel more comfortable as a "type"?


  1. I'm home today, so I can comment!!

    I've always considered myself to be a little bit of both. Right now, for instance, I'm locked in my bedroom with a laptop. (I'm supposed to be writing a chapter. Shh.) But later, I won't want to sit around the house. I want to go out! I want to be around other people! But when I get there...I'll be shy and I won't talk to anyone.

    Now I'm just making myself sound nuts. Fascinating posts!

  2. I definitely think of them as continuums (the version of Myers-Briggs I've taken spoke of them that way too, even though you end up with a label). And like you, on the tests I've taken, I am usually on the far end of the introversion continuum.

    Also, LOVE the charts :-)

  3. Blogger swallowed my comment!
    I definitely subscribe to the continuum. I didn't answer your introvert-extrovert question (though I was fascinated by others' responses) because I think categorisation is too imprecise.
    I look forward to Wednesday's post:-)

  4. What a cool post. We're destined to be writers--but it also makes social networking more challenging. At least it would if it weren't for the internet. That's like a gift for introverts. :D

    I'm the same about parties. They start to overwhelm me. That was the worst part about being a drug rep. We'd do evening programs and all I wanted to do was shut myself off for the day and go home.

  5. When you described your introverted tendencies you described me to a tee. If I had to describe myself I'd say I'm an introvert who fakes it really well, but only when I have to. LOL I like people, just not all at one time (I avoid parties), and I've never--even as a child--had a problem with being alone. As a kid I used to love our beach vacations because I could walk by myself for hours--hours!--just thinking and making up stories with no one to distract me with conversation. Part and parcel of being wired to be a writer, it seems. Love your informative posts. Congrats on nearing 300!

  6. I think real life behavior is a continuum -- but MBTI really helps to "say a lot in few words" when summing up someone's personality.

    I've scored INTJ all. my. life.

    In the last year or so I've really become a lot more rounded -- I very rarely score as INTP, ISTJ or ISTP now. But I never get anything with E. [g]

  7. I love your captions about the cute little bimodal distribution and adorable positively skewed distribution. Can't wait to read your post on social networking for introverted and extroverted peeps.
    - Sophia.

  8. Okay let's try this again - ha! Love this post. Like most writers, I lean toward the introversion, but I def have some extroverted moments too, especially when I'm w/ family, etc. Nothing like hanging out with my brother to make me all loud and obnoxious.:p But I agree completely with what you so eloquently put in words above about the social expectations of crowds and parties being what makes those situations difficult. Plus, being alone is so productive in the mind.:) Anyway, great post and the charts are awesome, not nerdy.:p

  9. INFP and proud! And that distribution IS positively adorable. :P

    I definitely like the idea of introversion/extroversion being a sliding scale rather than a separate pool of being. In some cases, I can be quite the chatty Cathy. I think I'd probably hang out right near the middle, and that makes me feel like... er, well, like less of a social recluse. In high school, 'introvert' has this massive stigma, and people assume it means 'asocial'. Lame.

  10., the fact that I used to hide under my bed at my own birthday party so I could read, would probably place me on the extreme end of introversion, yes?

  11. I'm definitely both. In a crowd I become introverted and don't feel like talking to anyone (a hermit, if you will). However, if I'm at a place I frequent, I can meet anyone and talk to them about anything. I have to be comfortable in my surroundings.

  12. Love this post! I'm (almost definitely) on the extreme end of Introversion, but knowing that introversion/extroversion follows a normal distribution is actually reassuring. :)

  13. My question is, can your spot on the continuum change over time? Because the more I think about it, the more I feel like since I've been writing, I tend less toward extrovert (which is always my initial answer) BUT now I'm thinking that is because of social media. SO perhaps I'll just have to wait for your next post...

  14. I'm most intrigued that you enjoy public speaking, because I do too! Introverted? Yes. Easily overstimulated? Yes. Most happy alone? Yes.

    Enjoys the stage? Yes. I've acted and loved it. I've spoken in front of people and loved it. I enjoy being in front of people with a microphone, and, honestly, I think I'm pretty good at it. I've never had stage fright - ever. (It is worth noting that I dislike 'improv' acting. I like scripts...or a written speech.) :)

    I don't get it. But I'll take it! :)

  15. I tend to see most traits as being on a continuum. I do think it's possible to shift over time from I toward E or vice versa. I used to be far more introverted, but after various jobs forced me to socialize extensively, I've become marginally more extroverted.

    Actually, what I find more difficult to change or imagine changing (if we're going by the Myers-Briggs types) is the iNtuitive/Sensing bit part of my personality. I (and most all the main characters I write, actually) am an "N" (INTJ). It's very hard for me to figure out how the brain works for Sensing types. I don't know why... I can imagine being an extrovert, or being a feeler rather than a thinker, and so forth... but I can't seem to flex that aspect of my personality in a different direction. Maybe I just don't understand it all well enough.

  16. Really interesting, Sarah. I love the statistical approach and graphs, and the invitation to cogitate on whether we believe it. Heh. Yes, it makes sense, and it reinforces the sense of community with other writers.

  17. I was an extreme introvert when I was in school. The behavior of my classmates only reinforced it. Then, I consiously worked my out of it, and in college I was a lot closer to the middle of the continuum. These days, now that I'm focussing on writing a lot more, I'm closer to being an extreme introvert again.

    I also don't have any problem getting up in front of people to speak or sing. Are extroverts more likely to have stage freight? That's weird.

  18. fun stuff... and I did that M-B test a few times. It's funny b/c I made different scores (I or E) depending on the day, my mood, etc. I told you! ;p <3

  19. The thing about Myers-Brigg: They made us do this at work, and then our old VP told everyone—including anyone NOT on our team—our classifications, even though most of us said we preferred that she not do that. I was so mad, not about the release of it, but that I actually had to defend my "I" status. Everyone assumes that "Introvert" in the MB setting means what Jung said "the state of or tendency toward being predominantly concerned with one's own mental life." Which it does mean that, but for MB, it also really means where you draw energy. The Wife draws energy when speaking in front of a crowd. I get energy by going off by myself for a few minutes and meditating.

  20. I'm definitely an introvert. It wouldn't surprise me if I was on outlier on the distribution. Being around others, even people I like, sucks the energy right out of me. At least I've reached an age where, if I do find myself in a social situation, I roll with it, engage with others, and know that blissful minutes with a book, a bag of Chewy Spree, and mug of ginger tea are just a few hours away.

  21. As a person who is almost smack dab in the middle on the spectrum (slightly more extrovert than introvert)I appreciate the continuum. I love to sing in front of people and speak and I get a lot of energy that way. But I also get a lot from time alone in solitary activities, and I never liked the idea of having to choose. Also, I think there are different values placed on each in different families. In my family, extroversion was prized and introversion was often misunderstood as shyness or insecurity to be worked out of people. It wasn't until I got married to a very introverted man that I began to recognize the value of sitting with oneself as more than just coming up with something to produce for others. Being for being's sake seems to be more of an introverted thing, and its important, too.

  22. Just to add, I consistently score ENFJ on Myer's Briggs, with a strong N and J and moderate E and F.

    Joshua- I'm sorry your boss did that! She really misunderstood the purpose of these kinds of personality tests.