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Psychology 06: Introversion vs Extroversion
Take the following self-test:
The Difference Between Introverts and Extroverts
Brain scans reveal a physiological difference between quiet thinkers and social butterflies.
Party animals and wallflowers hoping to change their social personas may have no say in the matter. A study shows that introverts and extroverts show activity in different brain structures which mirror the wildly opposing aspects of their personalities.
Debra Johnson, Ph.D., and John S. Wiebe, Ph.D., used positron emission tomography (PET) to measure cerebral blood flow—an indicator of brain activity—in individuals rated on a personality test as shy or gregarious.
Johnson, a research scientist at the University of Iowa, and Wiebe, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas, asked both types to think freely while undergoing PET scans. The images they obtained clearly separated the quiet thinkers from the social butterflies. Introverts showed increased blood flow in the frontal lobes, the anterior thalamus and other structures associated with recalling events, making plans and problem-solving.
Extroverts, on the other hand, displayed more activity in the posterior thalamus and posterior insula, regions involved in interpreting sensory data.
These results highlight what the researchers consider the main difference between introverts and extroverts: inward and outward focus. Reticent people are more introspective, attentive to internal thoughts, while wilder beings are driven by sights and sounds—they crave sensory stimulation.
While this study only correlates personality and brain activity—there's no proof that one causes the other—Wiebe says the findings just go to show that "everything psychological in nature is, at some level, physiological in nature."
Are Extroverts Happier Than Introverts?
Do You Have Good Character?
What really makes people who they are? Personality is defined as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s unique character.” It is often misunderstood. Businessmen and teachers have been trying to figure out how to use the personality of their workers and students to maximize productivity since the early 1970s, when the idea was first made popular by psychologist Dr. Carl Jung. Personality can’t be seen or touched and yet significantly affects how people feel and experience their lives. It is highly correlated to learning and productivity. But does it relate to well-being and happiness?
Extrovert vs Introvert
Two major personality types are extroverts and introverts. These types are known to have unique ways of feeling re-energized and motivated. They each have characteristic ways of interacting with the world and processing information.
Researchers estimate extroverts make up 50 - 74 percent of the population. These “social butterflies” thrive under social stimulation. Extroverts focus on their external environment, the people and activities around them. Extroverts thrive in active, fast-paced jobs, such as politics, teaching and sales, where quick decisions are commonplace. Extroverts learn by doing and enjoy talking through ideas and problems. Multi-tasking comes easily to them. Two examples of famous extroverts are Oprah and current U.S. President, Barack Obama.
The other 16 - 50 percent of the population consists of introverts, who get their energy from having “alone time.” Careers promoting introvert’s strength include scientists, writers and artists, although television personalities David Lettermen and Barbara Walters are self-proclaimed introverts. Introverts enjoy spending time alone or in small groups of people, but may get overwhelmed in new situations or in large groups of people. They prefer to focus on one task at a time and observe a situation before jumping in.
As it turns out, the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently! The front part of introvert’s brains are most active and stimulated by solitary activities while the back part of extrovert’s brains are most active. This part of the brain is stimulated by sensory events coming in from the external world! In addition, a chemical called “dopamine” is released by our brains whenever we experience something positive. It’s an automatic reward center and makes us feel good! Extroverts need more dopamine to feel an effect, whereas introverts have a low dopamine threshold. They don’t require a lot of stimulation to feel rewarded.
Which Type is Most Successful?
Issues may arise when an introvert and extrovert interact. An introvert may view an extrovert as bossy and overbearing whereas an extrovert may view an introvert as stuck up or shy. In fact, shyness is a trait commonly used to describe introvert, but both personality types can be shy. Shyness is a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety experienced in social situations. Unlike introverts, who prefer less social stimulation, shy people often crave social interaction, but avoid it for fear of criticism or rejection.
So which personality type has the real advantage, the extrovert or the introvert? Experience shows teamed up, the extrovert and the introvert, are a powerful team. Steve Jobs, a charismatic extrovert, teamed up with introvert Steve Wozniak to co-found Apple Inc.
Are Extroverts Happier Than Introverts?
There’s no clear answer to this question. Current tests consistently rate extroverts higher on the happiness scale than introverts. However, many of these tests measure degree of happiness using activities like socializing and interacting with the outside world, both of which extroverts need to thrive! Introverts do experience happiness when they around other people, but are most happy when participating in lower-key activities. These are not accounted for on current tests and likely causes introverts to score lower.
There also appears to be a cultural factor affecting the happiness level of extroverts and introverts. Many Western cultures tend to favor extroverted personalities, people who act quickly, appear friendly and are outgoing. Introverts often feel pressure to be extroverts, which can lead to anxiety or lowered self-esteem. A majority of Eastern cultures tend to encourage people who are more contemplative, quiet and appear serene. Introverts in these cultures don’t feel the stigma to be extroverted and so are more accepting of their inherent personality. Research supports the keys to happiness lie in having a sense of purpose, self acceptance and a supportive social network, which both personality types can form.
Perhaps happiness truly is in the eye of the beholder.