Before you declare yourself as an introvert or an extrovert, let’s first call on Carl Jung, the psychotherapist who popularized the terms in the early 20th century. According to him, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
So if you think that an extrovert is outgoing and an introvert is secluded or shy, and that you can only be one or the other, then your thinking is way off.
In fact, the original meanings of “introvert” and “extrovert” have significantly changed over the years. Now, the two are seen as a flexible spectrum, with introversion on one end and extroversion on the other. People often lean towards one end, making them either more outgoing or timid. However, we all have introverted and extroverted sides. It’s just that one may be more dominant in most situations.
Key differences between introverts and extroverts
#1 Brain activity. According to a study that used a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to monitor brain activity of introverts and extroverts, people’s brains work differently depending on their personality tendencies.
The social butterflies showed more activity in their posterior thalamus and posterior insula, the parts of the brain responsible for interpreting sensory data. This means they are driven by sights and sounds, and crave sensory simulation more than their counterparts. Meanwhile, the brains of those who tend to be more restrained showed activity in the frontal lobes, anterior thalamus, and other brain structures responsible for recalling events, problem-solving, and making plans. These so-called wallflowers are more focused on their internal thoughts.
#2 Processing. Introverts, as reflected in the term’s etymology, are internal processors. They often dive deep into their thoughts, swim there, and are happy to just make a day out of it. To other people, they may come off as silent and reserved, but their minds are racing, loud, and very active. These people are also able to better evaluate situations and make decisions on their own.
#3 Relaxation. One great way to differentiate between extroverts and introverts is by looking at the way they like to relax and rejuvenate. As cliché as it may sound, an introvert’s idea of a relaxing day is a good book and anything that gives them a good time alone.
For extroverts, their favorite way to unwind is to go out and spend time with family and friends. That isn’t to say, however, that introverts never want to socialize with others, which is why experts emphasize the spectrum. But in general, extroverts will gain energy through social interaction, whereas introverts will find it somewhat draining.
#4 Adaptability. Introverts find it harder to be spontaneous than extroverts. Introverts prefer to have a plan and are generally goal-oriented. Thus, they find it hard to adapt to changes in their plans, so they can feel uneasy or overwhelmed when unexpected things happen. Meanwhile, extroverts are better at going with the flow. In fact, they thrive in spontaneity, which allows them to better adapt to change. However, they tend to be more impulsive, while introverts are more strategic.
#5 Socialization. Introverts would rather have a small but tight group of friends. If these friends are lucky, the introvert might share his or her most closely guarded ideas and most intimate thoughts with them. However, a lot of the introvert’s inner world is best kept to him or herself, as introverts place such a huge premium on privacy.
#6 Sizing up situations. Introverts are often deemed “wallflowers” because they would rather take in any situation first before making a move. This is why they are often found at the edge of the crowd, contentedly looking at the happenings in the crowd rather than jumping in and participating. While they can interact, they find the company of a crowd tiresome and would just as easily retreat into their own shell.
This is so unlike extroverts, however, who are rejuvenated by the crowd. This is why they are often seen as the life of the party. New situations are exciting, and they can’t wait to jump right in. This stimulation even energizes them, only enhancing their personalities.
#7 Meeting new people. Introverts can tend to be choosy when it comes to warming up to other people, especially when meeting new connections. They size up people and situations first before engaging and allowing others into their world. Often, introverts surround themselves with people who share similar interests and preferences.
This is quite the opposite for extroverts. They can easily get along with a lot of people, regardless of whether or not these people share their own interests and intellect. They can easily strike up a conversation and keep it going with others, and can readily warm up to new people in no time.
#8 Aesthetics. Surprisingly, taking a look at the way a person arranges his or her house can be a good indicator for whether they tend to be more introverted or extroverted. Introverts, being calculated and goal-oriented, show this in the way they design and furnish their house. Their house or office space tends to be simpler and more practical and functional. They can have a clean and minimalistic aesthetic, which allows them to zone in to what’s essential. Their favorite colors are often more neutral, and their décor doesn’t have a lot of frills.
The aesthetic of the extrovert, however, is very different. They love things that are colorful and eye-catching, from the way they dress to the way they design and furnish their homes. This allows them to stand out in the crowd, of which they so eagerly wish to be at the center. Their aesthetics also allow them to strike up conversation based on their interesting and often frilly baubles and furniture. This can result in a more inviting, yet often cluttered, look to the home.
#9 Decision-making. Introverts take time before making decisions. They are calculated and tend to analyze any situation prior to coming to a conclusion. They also think about every angle and possible outcome before finally choosing the right path to take. This is because they see the big picture according to their own plans and goals.
More often considered impulsive and brash, extroverts, on the other hand, easily get carried away by the heat of the moment. They tend to be more driven by their emotions and are less cautious when it comes to decision-making. They are more oriented to short-term thinking, and would rather get answers and gratification in the present moment than wait for the long-term rewards in the future.
While there are many myths about how extroverts live life to the fullest, and how introverts are antisocial, these generalizations are far from true. Happiness can’t be determined by one personality trait alone, nor can having a specific personality lay out your future for you. However, they provide a good tool to help guide you and allow you to reflect on your own personality and preferences.