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We all want to learn more about what makes us who we are. How creative am I? Am I a good listener? Am I more emotional or logical? The questions are endless, but there is one that defines our personalities and how we interact with this world more than almost any other:
Am I an introvert or an extrovert?
Even if you know the answer, do you know what these two terms really mean?
Maybe other people have told you all your life that you’re one or the other (as people love to do). Perhaps you have even been tested or used an online quiz to identify yourself. However, like many popular threads circulating the web, all the talk about these personality types is full of assumptions, stereotypes and misconceptions.
So let’s take aim at a few introvert-extrovert zombie myths. Here are five of the most common stereotypes that just won’t die.
1) You must be either one or the other.
All stereotypes come from our bad habit of latching onto differences and blinding ourselves to everything we have in common. In reality, introversion and extroversion lie on a continuous scale. People classified as extroverts are fully capable of showing introvert characteristics, and vice versa.
The labels aren’t useless, though. Your result on an introvert-extrovert test does tell you something about how and where you usually (NOT always) draw your energy. Extroverts tend to recharge through interaction with others, especially groups; introverts usually replenish their batteries through alone time.
2) You can’t sit somewhere in the middle.
We are constantly asked to characterize ourselves as one personality type or another, mostly to give other people an easy, shortcut understanding of who we are. But what if you have taken multiple introvert-extrovert tests and gotten different results, or just seem to resonate with both identities?
If that sounds like you, chances are that you’re an ambivert.
Just as ambidextrous people do things equally well with either hand, ambiverts don’t lean heavily towards either side of the spectrum. Instead, they hang out near the middle and drift one way or the other as they see fit. The introvert-extrovert traits they display tend to depend on the situation and the people around them.
Read more about ambiverts here!
3) Switching between the two modes is simple.
Since almost all of us have both introverted and extroverted tendencies, it might seem like it should be easy to jump all over the spectrum. In reality, many of us find it almost impossible to swing from one extreme to the other (even if we wish we could!).
That’s because strong extroverts and introverts are quite literally wired differently. In two landmark studies conducted in 2005 and 2012, it was shown that extroverts respond to surprises and rewards differently than introverts, in two key regions of the brain. One of these regions, the amygdala, is our emotional center. The researchers found that extroverts generally have stronger immediate responses to perceived challenges and adventures.
On the other hand, introverts tend to ponder, often delving deep into various incoming stimuli before outwardly responding. Interestingly, the studies also revealed that an introvert’s brain has more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex than an extrovert’s. The prefrontal cortex is largely responsible for planning, expressions, social behavior and suppression of urges.
4) Introverts aren’t cut out to be speakers.
Overall, introverts are more likely than extroverts to only let thoughts escape their lips after carefully analyzing their words. This hesitancy to speak feeds the stereotype of introverts as “silent types”. However, this myth usually falls apart in comfortable, one-on-one settings, where many introverts will happily talk your ears off.
Still, with their tendency to delay sharing their opinions, a lot of introverts prefer typing over talking in many situations. Many of them have an intense fear of public speaking. However, with practice, introverts can become quite skilled at articulating their five cents in front of people – and like their extroverted counterparts, what they have to say is worth listening to.
As just one example, here is a popular Ted Talk by well-known introvert Susan Cain. It has been viewed 13 million times worldwide
5) Extroverts love small talk.
Extroverts often shine at the center of networking sessions, chatting away at an unhinged speed about absolutely everything and anything. Observing from the sidelines, introverts often misinterpret this behavior as proof that extroverts love mindless small talk.
This simply is not the case. We recently sat down with several people who consistently score high in the extrovert range to talk about extrovert stereotypes and myths. They unanimously agreed that they definitely don’t love small talk. They do, however, loathe silence.
So is it OK to be an introvert? Is it OK to be an extrovert? Is it OK to be both? Yes, yes, and yes. And the more you get past the myths and learn the true meanings of these terms, the better you’ll be able to appreciate both your own strengths and those of others.