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The Truth: Introverts and Extraverts Are Wired Differently

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Introverts and Extraverts

Written by: Edythe Richards

Two of the most common misunderstandings of the Extravert-Introvert dichotomy is that 1.) Introverted types are more introspective than Extroverted types, and 2.) Introverted types enjoy solitary activities more than Extraverted types.

The MBTI® relies on a dichotomous scoring procedure, and the instrument depends on this perspective of personality. The MBTI® assumes a person falls into 1 of 2 “sides” on each of 4 dichotomies, which results in one of 16 “Types.”

It is therefore a “forced choice” assessment (a person only has the option of “A” or “B”). We use both preferences on every dimension at different times, but we’re predisposed toward one over the other.

Unfortunately, some people who use the instrument do not fully explain the concepts of preferences to ensure an understanding of the dichotomies. The proper verbiage is not “You’re an Introvert” but “You have a preference for Introversion” or “You’re an Introverted type.”

The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest in the field of psychology, and I believe it can also apply to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:

Introverts and Extraverts’ brains are simply wired differently. One major difference is the way they each respond to the neurotransmitters dopamine (which provides motivation to seek external “rewards” such as money, happy faces, food, exploration of the environment, social status and affiliation), and acetylcholine (which powers the ability to think deeply, reflect, and focus intently on one thing for a long period of time).

Dopamine: while both Introverts and Extraverts have the same amount of dopamine, it is more active in the brains of Extraverts. This means that Extraverts are triggered by the expectation of these “rewards.”

In short, Extraverts have a low sensitivity to dopamine and therefore require large amounts of it, and they need adrenaline to increase the dopamine in their brains. Therefore, the more active they are, the more dopamine they have.

Introverts’ brains, on the other hand, are not as activated by these external rewards from the environment, so it may appear that they are less enthusiastic about these rewards. They are just less energized by external stimulation.

Acetylcholine: this neurotransmitter also rewards us, but on a more subtle level. It is more active in the brains of Introverts. When it is engaged, the body conserves energy, muscles relax, pupils constrict, blood pressure is lowered, and we relax as we withdraw from the external world. In short, the body is getting ready for “hibernation and contemplation”: two of the things Introverts like the most.

Additionally, Introverts and Extraverts process stimuli differently. The “dopamine pathway” Extraverts use is shorter than the Acetylcholine pathway Introverts use. This could explain why many Extraverts are able to respond faster to an onslaught of stimuli.

This explains why Extraverts may appear to like face-to-face networking more than online networking: they prefer the effects of dopamine, which are aligned with the interactions, new experiences and expressions of people that in-person networking events reinforce.

Too much dopamine overloads the brains of Introverts and they may be prone to over-stimulation at such events, thus preferring online networking where they can be more relaxed in their own homes in familiar territory.

It’s important to note, however, that correlation does not imply causation. Though science says we’re pre-disposed to Extraversion or Introversion, our own individual experiences, families of origin, and culture all play a part too.

Related: 7 Wasted Networking Opportunities That Hurt Your Chances

To use myself as an example: my mother was my primary caregiver, and she is a very clear Introvert. As a child, my behaviors and activities that were rewarded were Introverted ones; solitary activities such as reading, piano (solo – not with groups), and individual sports like horseback riding. I was taught to think before I speak, be mindful of other people; don’t interrupt, etc. We also lived on a farm, isolated from other people. I used to beg my mom to move us to a neighborhood so I could play with other kids. As a teenager, I craved group activities, and in college, I actively sought out group affiliates. As I became more aware of Type Theory, a light-bulb clicked: I am naturally an Extravert, but due to my upbringing, I became very comfortable in the world of Introverts – so much so, that even today, I’m often mistaken as an Introvert.

To be clear, there’s no right or wrong: we are who we are. All of us fall somewhere on the spectrum between Extraversion and Introversion – and all of us use both in our day-to-day lives. Neither is better or worse; we can all learn from each other.

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