The Strange Evolution Of The Different Kinds Of Introversion

By Debra Kelly on Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Barefoot man reading at home
“He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart.” —Jane Austen, “Sense and Sensibility”

In A Nutshell

For a long time, psychologists have debated about how to classify introversion, and throughout the 1990s, it was simply one classification that was more or less “not extroversion.” Researchers have now broken introverts down into four different categories, stressing that each person relates to each category with varying degrees. Reserved introverts start out shy and standoffish, but tend to open up and become more social once they know someone. Thinking introverts tend not to shy away from social situations, but spend those times watching rather than participating. Anxious introverts avoid socializing because it makes them uncomfortable, while social introverts prefer small, close-knit groups.

The Whole Bushel

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the difference between introverts and extroverts. Some explanations say the difference is really in how people recharge and how their energy is channeled, along with attempts at describing each personality so the other type can better understand where someone’s coming from. It all seems to be a pretty new thing, but the debate about how introverts work isn’t old at all.

The terms were first coined by Carl Jung in the 1920s. The basics are the same: Introverted people have their energy sucked away by social situations, while extroverted people thrive on those same situations. He also said that there really was no such thing as a true introvert or a true extrovert, mostly because that person would very quickly find themselves in an asylum.

German psychologist Hans Eysenck followed that up a few decades later with the idea that there was something biologically different between how the brains of an introverted person and an extroverted one work. Recent developments have supported this, showing a difference in the blood flow through the brain, depending on what a person identified as.

There have been plenty of arguments on what it means to be introverted. Beginning even in the 1930s, psychologists were showing that being introverted wasn’t just about energy, and there were a number of factors involved. Debates got heated throughout the ’60s and ’70s, to the point where psychologists nearly came to professional blows, arguing that there were major distinctions that needed to be made. With the development of the so-called “Big Five” personality charts in the ’90s, it seemed like those that thought there was more to introversion had lost. Now, it was defined in the rather frustrating “not extroversion” sort of way.

Now, though, people are looking at things a little differently. Questions that have been characteristically used to define all aspects of introversion (i.e., spending a lot of time thinking about your own feelings) are better suited to being applied to another part of the personality test—along with introversion.

So now, researchers have developed four different kinds of introversion that’s meant to more accurately describe what’s going on in the introvert brain—something that makes a lot of sense to, say, the introvert who likes people and doesn’t know why they’ve always been told they shouldn’t like to socialize.

There’s the anxious introvert, who finds social interactions stressful and exhausting because the interactions are often uncomfortable. They’re self-conscious, they worry about how they’re going to look to other people, and they dwell on what they see as social missteps. There’s also the social introvert, who accepts (perhaps begrudgingly) the party invitation, but is more comfortable in small groups. Large ones are overwhelming, exhausting, and they’d still rather be home with the cat.

Then there are thinking introverts, who tend to reflect more on their own thoughts than project them to the world around them. Of all the types of introverts, these are the most likely to be comfortable in social situations, but they’re the ones watching and listening rather than shouting.

And finally, there are restrained introverts. They’re the ones that are standoffish at first, uncomfortable around new people, and likely to avoid situations where they’re surrounded by a lot of people they don’t know. Once they get to know someone, though, they tend to become more open and participate more in social activities.

It’s also noted that most introverts have a combination of all these traits, and no one is 100 percent of one thing or the other, but it’s certainly helping to make sense of why so many introverts tend to describe themselves so differently.

Show Me The Proof

PsychCentral: What Kind of Introvert Are You?
Business Insider: Research suggests there are 4 types of introverts—find out which best describes you
Scientific American: What Kind of Introvert Are You?
io9.com: The Science of What Makes an Introvert and an Extrovert