This is the third post in a series of four for authors about the Myers-Briggs personality distinctions, especially for authors who may not be familiar with the system and could use a bit of guidance when it comes to character development and getting to know the major players in their story.
Most people, due to the influence of Susan Cain and her book “Quiet,” have come to understand that introversion is not shyness; it is rather a state of being in which people expend energy in social situations and tend to recharge through solitude and/or solitary activities.
Extroverts are the opposite. They gain energy through social interaction and prefer not to be alone. They may feel bored, drained, and suffer from “cabin fever” when they have to spend long amounts of time by themselves.
Thus, you can be an outgoing introvert or a shy introvert. The same goes if you are an extrovert.
But what are some other things about introversion and extroversion you might not know?
- Introverts are more likely to be “highly sensitive.” This doesn’t have to do with emotional sensitivity, however. In “Quiet,” Cain explores a fascinating link between introversion and people who are sensitive to external stimulation (like noise, bustle, music, or bright, flashing lights) and get overstimulated easily. Basically, the “line” when we become overstimulated is lower for many introverts than it is for many extroverts. (There is no hard, fast rule that applies 100% of the time). This link might help to explain WHY introverts are largely known for preferring small groups to larger ones and WHY “going out” can be so draining for them.
- Extroverts think out loud. That is how they process information and formulate ideas. They are comfortable presenting the germ of an idea before it is formed, because they understand that the way they develop ideas is by sharing what they have now. Introverts, in contrast, tend to hold words and language in great respect. They don’t like to “waste” them. This is why they tend to hate small talk and also why they don’t tend to talk until they are sure they know what they are talking about. (Hence the stereotype of introverts as quiet.)
- An extrovert will need a higher degree of stimulation to feel entertained or occupied. In fact, a situation that would overstimulate a typical introvert may be the optimal level of stimulation to keep a strong extrovert happy. Thus, extroverts are more likely to feel bored or to suffer ennui than introverts. Introverts love to lose themselves in their thoughts and can “handle” long stretches of solitude or uneventfulness better than extroverts.
- It does not hold that extroverts are necessarily superficial or materialistic, more “worldly” and less “intelletual.” Based on stereotypical images of extroversion–such as excelling at small talk, asking lots of questions, thinking “out loud”–someone might assume that introverts are more nerdy and intellectual, and your typical extrovert is a “dumb jock.” This is not at all true, of course. Extroversion and introversion have nothing to do with intelligence or inclinations toward learning, even if introverts and extroverts tend to develop ideas in different ways. One of the most intelligent and philosophical people I know is a classic extrovert. He loves to get group discussions going about deep topics, asks “why?” and other insightful questions that force me to examine the foundations of my point of view, and has a job overseeing education.