Introversion is a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. Introverts and extroverts are often viewed in terms of two extreme opposites, but the truth is that most people lie somewhere in the middle.
While introverts make up an estimated 25% to 40% of the population, there are still many misconceptions about this personality type. It is also important to note that being an introvert does not mean that you are socially anxious or shy.
If you’re not sure whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, taking an introvert vs. extrovert test may help you get a better idea of which category suits your personality.
What Is an Introvert?
Introversion is one of the major personality traits identified in many theories of personality.
The word introvert is used to describe someone who tends to turn inward, meaning they focus more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.
You might hear people use the words withdrawn or introspective as synonyms for introvert.
Introversion is generally viewed as existing as part of a continuum along with extroversion. Introversion indicates one end of the scale, while extroversion represents the other end.
The terms introversion and extroversion (also often spelled extraversion) were popularized through the work of Carl Jung and later became central parts of other prominent theories including the big 5 theory of personality.
The introversion-extroversion dimension is also one of the four areas identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). According to many theories of personality, everyone has some degree of both introversion and extroversion. However, people often tend to lean one way or the other.
Introverts tend to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective. Extroverts gain energy from social interaction, while introverts expend energy in social situations. After attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, introverts often feel a need to “recharge” by spending time alone.1
Causes of Introversion
Are you born introverted or is it something you become over time? Introverts likely develop due to a combination of both nature and nurture. The way that your body’s physiology responds to the outside environment plays a critical role in determining your level of extroversion and introversion.
On a physiological level, a network of neurons located in the brainstem known as the reticular activating system (RAS) is responsible for regulating arousal levels including wakefulness and transitions between sleeping and waking.2
The RAS also plays a role in controlling how much information you take in while you are awake. When confronted by potential threats in the environment, the RAS increases arousal levels so you can be alert and ready to deal with danger.
Each person has a basic set point in terms of arousal level. Some people tend to naturally have a much higher set point, while others have a much lower set point.
The psychologist Hans Eysenck suggested that these arousal levels could be thought of as a continuum. According to his arousal theory of extroversion:
- 15% of people have a minimal set point, meaning they naturally have low arousal levels.
- 15% of people have a high setpoint, meaning they naturally tend to be more aroused.
- 70% of people lie somewhere in the middle of the continuum.
According to Eysenck’s theory, introverts have naturally high levels of arousal. Because of these high arousal levels, introverts tend to seek activities and environments where they can escape from overstimulation. Alone time gives them the opportunity to process and reflect on what they have learned.
Signs That You Are an Introvert
You may find yourself asking, Am I an introvert? Or maybe you’re wondering if someone in your life falls into this category.
While you might think of an introvert as a shy wallflower who prefers to stay home alone instead of socializing, introverts come in many types, with a wide variety of characteristics. The types include:3
- Social introverts: This type of introvert prefers small vs. large groups of people. They prefer a quiet night at home over a night out.
- Thinking introverts: Introverts in this category tend to spend a lot of time thinking. They are introspective and creative.
- Anxious introverts: Anxious introverts often feel unsettled or nervous around people during social interactions.
- Inhibited introverts: This type of introvert tends to overthink, spending a significant amount of time considering a decision before doing anything.
You might find, however, that many introverts have a blend of qualities from among the four types. Many introverts also display qualities that you wouldn’t think are typical to their personality type.
For instance, there are plenty of introverts who enjoy socializing. You might even be surprised to learn that many people who you think of as “social butterflies” might actually be quite introverted.
The following are just a few of the signs that you (or someone you know) might be an introvert.
1. Being Around Lots of People Drains Your Energy
Do you ever feel exhausted after spending time with a lot of people? After a day interacting with others, do you often need to retreat to a quiet place and have an extended amount of time to yourself? One of the major characteristics of this personality type is that introverts have to expend energy in social situations, unlike extroverts who gain energy from such interactions.4
That doesn’t mean that introverts avoid social interactions altogether. Many introverts actually enjoy spending time around others, but they tend to prefer the company of close friends.
While an extrovert might go to a party with the goal to meet new people, an introvert intends to spend time talking to good friends.
2. You Enjoy Solitude
As an introvert, your idea of a good time is a quiet afternoon to yourself to enjoy your hobbies and interests. Activities like time alone with a good book, a peaceful nature walk, or watching your favorite television program help you feel recharged and energized.
This does not mean that introverts want to be alone all the time. Many introverts love spending time with friends and interacting with familiar people in social situations. The key thing to remember is that after a long day of social activity, an introvert will probably want to retreat to a quiet place to think, reflect, and recharge.
If having a few hours to be alone sounds like your idea of a good time, you just might be an introvert.
3. You Have a Small Group of Close Friends
One common misconception about introverts is that they don’t like people. While introverts typically do not enjoy a great deal of socializing, they do enjoy having a small group of friends to whom they are particularly close.
Instead of having a large social circle of people they know only on a superficial level, introverts prefer to stick to deep, long-lasting relationships marked by a great deal of closeness and intimacy.
Researchers have found that people high in this trait tend to have a smaller group of friends.
Of the many strengths of introverts, one is that they tend to create profound and significant relationships with those closest to them. They also prefer to interact with people on a one-on-one basis rather than in a large group setting.
If your social circle tends to be small but very close, there’s a pretty good chance you are an introvert.
While extroverts generally have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, introverts typically choose their friends much more carefully.
4. People May Find It Difficult to Get to Know You
Introverts are often described as quiet, reserved, and mellow, and are sometimes mistaken for being shy.
While some introverts certainly are shy, people should not mistake an introvert’s reserve for timidity. In many cases, people with this personality type simply prefer to choose their words carefully and not waste time or energy on needless chit-chat.
If you are the quiet type and a bit reserved, you probably are an introvert.
5. Too Much Stimulation Leaves You Feeling Distracted
When introverts have to spend time in activities or environments that are very hectic, they can end up feeling unfocused and overwhelmed. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to thrive in situations where there is a lot of activity and few chances of becoming bored.
Researchers have found that introverts tend to be more easily distracted than extroverts,5 which is part of the reason why introverts tend to prefer a quieter, less harried setting.
If you tend to feel overwhelmed in busy social situations, you may be an introvert.
6. You Are Very Self-Aware
Because introverts tend to be inward-turning, they also spend a great deal of time examining their own internal experiences. If you feel like you have good knowledge and insight into yourself, your motivations, and your feelings, you might be more of an introvert.
Introverts tend to enjoy thinking about and examining things in their own minds. Self-awareness and self-understanding is important to introverts, so they often devote a great deal of time to learning more about themselves.
If you feel that you are self-aware and enjoy gaining deep knowledge about yourself, then you might be more of an introvert.
Self-awareness is one of the many strengths of introverts. They tend to explore hobbies they enjoy, think about their lives, and read books that explore themes and topics that are important to them.
7. You Like to Learn by Watching
Where extroverts tend to prefer to jump right in and learn through hands-on experience, introverts typically prefer learning through observation. Extroverts learn through trial and error, while introverts prefer to observe before attempting something new.
Introverts like to watch others perform a task, often repeatedly, until they feel that they can replicate the actions on their own. When introverts do learn from personal experience, they prefer to practice somewhere private where they can build their skills and abilities without having to perform for an audience.
If you like to learn more by watching rather than doing, there is a chance that you have a more introverted personality.
8. You Are Drawn to Jobs That Involve Independence
As you might imagine, jobs that require a great deal of social interaction usually hold little appeal to people high in introversion. On the other hand, careers that involve working independently are often a great choice for introverts. For example, an introvert might enjoy working as a writer, accountant, computer programmer, graphic designer, pharmacist, or artist.
Introversion vs. Shyness
It is important to note that introversion does not necessarily equal shyness. In The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal, Louis Schmidt and Arnold Buss write, “Sociability refers to the motive, strong or weak, of wanting to be with others, whereas shyness refers to behavior when with others, inhibited or uninhibited, as well as feelings of tension and discomfort.”6
Shyness indicates a fear of people or social situations. Introverts, on the other hand, simply prefer not to spend lots of time interacting with other people.
Introverts do appreciate being around people with whom they are close. They find engaging in “small talk” tedious, but do enjoy having deep, meaningful conversations. Introverts also tend to think before speaking. They want to have a full understanding of a concept before they voice an opinion or try to offer an explanation.Understanding the Dimensions of Introversion and Shyness
Introversion vs. Depression
If you find yourself wondering, Am I an introvert or depressed?, it’s important to know that anyone can experience depression, whether they are an introvert or extrovert.
If you are withdrawing from social situations or activities to the point where you are feeling sad, anxious, depressed, or worried, this may be a sign of depression—regardless of your personality type.
Some studies suggest that introversion may increase the risk of developing loneliness, depression, and anxiety.7 If you are experiencing these or any other mental health concerns, be sure to talk to a doctor or mental health professional.
Similarly, if you’re wondering, Am I an introvert or antisocial?, talking to a mental health professional can help you reach an answer. The main difference between being an introvert and being antisocial is that introverts are socially engaged (in a way that feels comfortable to them) whereas those who are antisocial prefer not to be.8
People who are antisocial often find it difficult to live in a society where they are expected to have even small social interactions or behave in a socially acceptable way. If you’re struggling with this, talking to a mental health professional can also help you determine whether your antisocial behavior is linked with a related mental health condition.
Misconceptions About Introverts
In an article in Atlantic Monthly, author Jonathan Rauch took on some of the common myths and misconceptions about introverts. While introverts are often labeled as shy, aloof, and arrogant, Rauch suggests that these perceptions result from the failure of extroverts to understand how introverts function.
“Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion,” Rauch suggests. “They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood.”
According to estimates, extroverts outnumber introverts by about three to one.1 Introverts often find that other people try to change them or even suggest that there is something wrong with them.
While introverts make up a smaller portion of the population, there is no right or wrong personality type. Instead, both introverts and extroverts should strive to understand each other’s differences and similarities.11 Things Introverts Want You to Know
Can You Stop Being an Introvert?
The short answer is that you can’t stop being an introvert or flip a switch to completely change the introverted aspects of your personality. However, if you find that you’re frustrated with being an introvert, there are things you can do.
For instance, if you find you’re spending too much time alone, you might explore how you can socialize more in a way that feels good to you. If you’re burning out too much from social interactions, you might learn self-care strategies that help you relax and recover.
If you’re struggling with being an introvert, it’s OK to ask for help. In fact, talking to a mental health professional can be an excellent step to learn more about introversion.
For instance, during a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) session, a therapist can teach you healthy coping mechanisms for when you experience difficult emotions. They can also advise you on how to reframe negative thought patterns that might be holding you back.9
A Word From Verywell
If you identify with some characteristics of introversion and some characteristics of extroversion, then there is a pretty good chance that you are an ambivert: one of the 70% of people who fall somewhere in the middle. Ambiverts tend to enjoy both spending time with others and spending time alone,10 depending on the situation and their needs at the moment.
When deciding whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, remember that one type isn’t better than the other. Each tendency can have benefits and drawbacks depending on the situation. By better understanding your personality, however, you can learn how to play to your strengths.
In one study of adult introverts, those who had strong social relationships and emotional regulation skills were found to be happier than those who did not have those skills.11 Make the most of your strengths by nurturing your close relationships in order to foster strong social connections and utilize your tendency to look inward in order to develop solid emotional understanding.