What is an introvert?
There are many different perspectives about introversion circulating online and in print. With the Coronavirus pandemic going on and famous people “discovering” that they’re introverts, many of you might be wondering what an introvert is after all. In this post, I'd like to present my definition of introversion as well as how it relates to other traits that introverts are sometimes associated with. Here are 8 descriptions I often hear about introverts and the reasons why I don't consider them sufficient to define the introvert:
So what is introversion really? Carl Jung, the psychologist who first defined introversion and extraversion, called them mental attitudes. Each of us have minds that can direct themselves both outward and inward. Sometimes we engage with the physical world, sometimes we engage with our minds. People who are born with the inclination to engage more with the physical world than their own minds are extraverts, and introverts are the opposite. It’s like being right- or left-handed: we are naturally inclined toward using one or the other as our dominant hand, but we can still use the other one, just not as well. (Some people believe in ambidextrous “ambiverts,” but we’ll save that discussion for another time.)
Extraverts habitually turn their thoughts, interest, and mental energies toward objects of the physical world. This is the necessary and sufficient condition of extraversion. But a lot of tendencies come with this. Extraverts are more physically active, more influenced by the external world, and more drawn to external stimulation. They tend to adapt better in new physical circumstances and to interact with more stimulation more frequently. They also primarily value things in the physical world, such as exciting experiences, achievement, social status, and relationships.
Introverts habitually turn our thoughts, interest, and mental energies toward our own minds, the subjective conscious awareness that is having our experiences. This is the necessary and sufficient condition of introversion. Introverts are more active in our minds, more influenced by our own inner world, and more withdrawn from external stimulation. We tend to be less adaptable to changing physical circumstances, but can be as socially relaxed as extraverts when we are in a nonthreatening environment. We also primarily value things of the mind, such as self-understanding, meaning, principles, and a connection to a higher reality.
Recent research has added support to Jung’s ideas. Researchers Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman have found that someone’s inborn psychological traits have a great impact on their future personalities. These traits are called someone’s temperament. A person’s temperament determines which chemicals in the brain are most frequently used to respond to situations. It determines whether the brain prefers to rest and digest or to seek rewards in the external environment. It also determines how sensitive we are to stimuli and how deeply we process them.
My definition: Introversion is a temperament. It is an inborn predisposition to reflect rather than act, to be drawn more to engaging with the mind than interacting with anything outside of it. We can say, then, that this inborn predisposition is the necessary and sufficient condition of introversion.
Starting life with this temperament has many implications for how someone develops. Most people are extraverts, and our societies are biased toward extraversion, so introverts often feel out of place and have trouble understanding ourselves. Being born an introvert often means developing a shy, reserved, bookish, thoughtful, socially avoidant, anxious, or independent personality. However, it doesn’t always mean this. Some introverts I’ve met are gregarious, loud, hate reading, are uninhibited, or don’t try to think very deeply about things. To identify the actual introvert, we need to talk about the necessary and sufficient condition: the introverted temperament.
Of course, going back to Carl Jung, this doesn't necessarily matter. As a clinical psychotherapist, he cared more about helping people overcome psychological problems than finding scientific evidence of introversion. Maybe that's why there are so many different opinions about introversion. Most of it has now become a matter of aggregate research on people's tendencies (using the scientifically defined trait of extraversion) or individual self-improvement (using the general description of the introvert).
Maybe at this point, it's best just to write about people that we call introverts, let our readers figure out if they relate to them, and let them learn and glean what they can to improve their lives—whether or not they would technically qualify as "introverts" according to Jung or anyone else's definition.
Granneman, J. (N.d.). 21 funny tweets only true introverts will understand. Accessed 24 May 2020 from: introvertdear.com/news/funny-tweets-only-true-introverts-will-understand/
Granneman, J. (N.d.) Why introverts and extroverts are different: The science. Accessed 24 May 2020 from: https://www.quietrev.com/why-introverts-and-extroverts-are-different-the-science/
Kagan, J. & Snidman, N. (2009). The long shadow of temperament. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Amazon Link.
Laney, M. (2002). The introvert advantage: How quiet people can thrive in an extroverted world. New York: Workman Publishing Co. Amazon Link.
Wilmot, Michael P., Wanberg, Connie R., Kammeyer-Mueller, John D., Ones, Deniz S. (2019). Extraversion advantages at work: A quantitative review and synthesis of the meta-analytic evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(12), 1447–1470. Accessed 24 May 2020 from: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-28019-001
I’m Harrison Paul, the Introvert Philosopher. I hold an MA in Philosophy from San Francisco State University and wrote my thesis on using moral education in schools to resist the influence of advertising on politics. I am the author of five-book introvert epic fantasy series Kaybree versus the Angels. I am also actively seeking publication for my nonfiction book The Quiet Minority: Why Introverts are Oppressed and How We Can Stop It and the Aurora Lightwalker series of far-future YA introvert novels.