Introversion is not the opposite of extroversion, part 1

November 20, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Fitness, Freedom, Models, Nature, Visualization

Here is a common belief for the relationships between introversion and extraversion. I’m going to show how it worsens your life and offer an alternative you will resist and fight against, but if you keep an open mind you’ll realize explains your world more effectively and helps you to improve your life. Introversion extroversion spectrum I call it the “Or” model of introversion and extraversion for reasons you’ll see below. It says that introverted people have certain properties and abilities, extroverted people have complementary properties and abilities, and you either have one set or the other, but not both. It says some people may lie somewhere in the middle of the axis, having some introverted traits and some extroverted traits, but not the full amount that a pure introvert or extrovert would have of each. People commonly believe it, but it has no solid scientific basis, at least not that I know (I’d love to learn otherwise). Still, when someone believes it, it influences them strongly and, to the extent they don’t realize it’s a belief, it becomes part of their reality they fight to hold on to.

As Einstein said

Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.

Today’s post will suggest trying to view the world from another theory and to see where it leads.

Once you believe something, a cascade of things happens. Most relevant here is that the cognitive bias known as confirmation bias will lead you to accept information supporting your belief and reject information that contradicts your belief. Just like if you think Pat is a great person, when Pat acts great, you think “Pat sure is great” and when Pat acts like a jerk you think “That’s odd, Pat is normally great but just acted like a jerk. Well, Pat’s still great despite this odd anomaly” while someone who thought Pat was a jerk would think “Pat sure is a jerk” when Pat acted like a jerk and “That’s odd, Pat is normally a jerk, but just acted great. Well, Pat’s still a jerk despite this odd anomaly” when Pat acted great. In other words, confirmation bias can lead to the same information reinforcing contradictory beliefs.

If you believe this model you will start to believe you, along with everyone, fall somewhere along the axis. If you think you’re more introverted you’ll feel more comfortable alone. When tired you’ll have little energy to do extroverted things. If you feel you’re extroverted you’ll feel more comfortable in groups and will have little energy to do introverted things when tired.

Most importantly you believe the model is right. If you believe it, you’ll believe alternatives are wrong. You’ll resist seeing alternatives. The longer you’ve believed this model, the more deeply you’ll have found ways to reinforce and confirm it. You’ve found patterns of rewards and punishments based on it and created a lifestyle to give you reward and avoid punishment based on it. You recognize that acting on deviations from that model will not likely lead to greater reward since you believe you’ve maxed out your reward, but will likely lead to feelings of punishment.

Why that model hurts you

Here is another similar model that you’ll probably recognize as counterproductive that believing only worsens your life. I call it an “Or” model too. Fit versus Intelligent Anyone reading this blog would look at this model and realize it’s garbage. It suggests people can either be strong or intelligent but not both. You can easily tell its consequences to the life of someone who believed it. You’d never want your child to believe it because it would risk your child limiting him- or herself from being fit and intelligent.

You know that anyone can be fit or not fit and intelligent or not intelligent and the two measures are independent. If you want to increase your fitness you know can do things to do so, like exercising and eating accordingly. Those things won’t decrease your intelligence. They might increase it. Likewise, you can do things to increase your ability to solve problems, like practicing solving problems and sleeping well. Those things won’t decrease your fitness. They might increase it.

Still, you probably remember a time in your childhood when you believed the smart kids in school were less fit and the jocks were less smart, or something like that. If you didn’t feel that way you recognize some kids did. You probably expect some adults still believe in the above model. If so, you probably consider them believing it tragic, leading them to feel they have to sacrifice their health if they want to be smart and vice versa.

Even if you don’t believe that model, you probably admit to some correlation that would support the above model, however much you disagree with it. For example, there probably is a anti-correlation between athletes and high grades in school, and between people with high grades and athletic ability. But you wouldn’t say biology caused the correlation. You’d say social pressures did and point out many counterexamples — fit people with high grades.

You probably believe something more like this, which I call the “And” model. Fitness and intelligenceThis model says that fitness and intelligence are independent of each other, that fitness doesn’t imply a lack of intelligence, nor does intelligence imply a lack of fitness. You can be fit and intelligent. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. People who believe this model reject that fitness has any biological correlation with intelligence. They’d teach it to their kids, hoping to motivate their kids to be fit and intelligent, or at least discourage them from thinking doing well in one area might hurt them in another.

You’d also expect people who believed the Or model would resist teaching their kids this model for the same reason — they’d fear their kids would think they could have both and, in trying for both, unwittingly sacrifice some of the one they valued.

Fatigue and undeveloped skills

Say you believed the Or model of fitness and intelligence and considered yourself intelligent. You would then consider fitness more challenging for you than for most. You’d recognize you could work to become more fit, but you’d believe you had to work harder than naturally fit people. You’d find exercise hard and figure it was harder for you than for most people. You wouldn’t find it relaxing. You’d find it dolorous. You’d recognize others found it exhilarating and maybe wish you could too.

Most of all you’d say exercise drained you of energy and reading relaxed you.

If you believed the And model and heard someone else say all that about themselves, you’d say, “Of course exercise makes you feel tired. It uses up your energy, but it does that with everyone. The fatigue can also feel relaxing if you look at it that way. Exercise is no easier for anyone else. You don’t feel more tired than anyone else after they exercise. You only think you feel more tired because of your belief. If you just change your belief you’ll see you’re just as capable of enjoying exercising and the rewards of fitness as anyone else.”

You can likewise imagine a fit person believing the Or model describing problem-solving as draining their energy and not relaxing, and exercise as invigorating and relaxing. You’d say something similar to them about their finding problem-solving draining. Of course it’s hard, but it’s hard for everyone. You only think it’s particularly hard and draining because of your belief.

For every fit intelligent person you showed them, they’d show you a fit underachiever or unfit intelligent person. You’d recognize their confirmation bias in action.

All skills you don’t have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don’t drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.

We’ll see this effect again in a moment. You can counter feeling drained by developing skills, with practice, just like everyone else. Since we all have only twenty-four hours in the day, if we spend all our time in one area, we won’t reach our potential in another, but that doesn’t mean we biologically couldn’t. It just means we spent more time in one area than another. If your child said because they played sports they should get low grades you’d disagree.

The “And” model of introversion and extraversion

I propose the “And” model of introversion and extraversion, which you could probably anticipate.

First I’ll note that I’m using the terms introversion and extraversion as shorthand for sets of skills, each of which one can learn independently.Introversion and extroversionThis model suggests for introversion and extraversion everything the And model for fitness and strength said about its characteristics. It says introversion doesn’t imply a lack of extraversion, nor does extraversion imply a lack of introversion.

It says that each characteristic comes from skills anyone can learn. Just like if you exercise you’ll improve your fitness no matter who you are, if you meditate you’ll improve your introversion no matter who you are. If you practice your social skills you’ll improve your extraversion no matter who you are.

Doubtless many readers who have believed the Or model for introversion and extraversion are compiling evidence against the And model already. They’ve had decades to build lives around that belief and the change threatens their system of rewards. They’ve avoided parties out of feelings of helplessness they considered innate and unchanging that this model implies they learned. It suggests they could take responsibility for improving their lives in areas they never tried to and now realize their inaction prevented them from joy and achievement. It suggests what they said was easy for others was just as hard for anyone else as for themselves.

Such people will no doubt compile and present evidence proving their Or model correct and the And model wrong, which those of us who see opportunity to grow, learn, and improve our lives will see as showing their confirmation bias more than anything else. Because we can show just as much evidence of people with extraversion and introversion skills their biases blind them to. They can talk about neural pathways and neurotransmitters as if those big words definitively concluded anything, which they don’t, at least with our current understanding of such things. All the evidence I’ve seen is consistent with the And model, though you have to think about it differently. They’ll likely attack my credentials, pointing out my PhD is not in psychology, which I’ll grant them, but I’ll redirect them back to the point, which is not me. If they have evidence contradicting the And model of introversion and extraversion, I would love to see it. It would have to overcome evidence of people having both sets of skills.

People I describe this And model to consistently describe how trying to act extraverted when they consider themselves introverted and vice versa leave them drained. Though they resist seeing it, all their explanations are consistent with the statement in the previous section, “All skills you don’t have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don’t drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.” I recommend rereading the last section, substituting introversion and extraversion for fitness and intelligence and an open mind.

A challenge

If you’ve believed the Or model of introversion and extraversion your whole life and resist the And model, try this challenge: try believing the And model for a week or a month. See where it leads you. If you’re one hundred percent sure the Or model is right, you won’t have any problems believing something different for a while. You might be surprised how your life changes if you look at things differently for a while. You might find yourself trying and enjoying things you never thought you could. You might believe yourself capable of learning and doing things you thought impossible. You might open new parts of life. You might start to find the evidence against it not so persuasive and more self-serving.

When you feel your life improving, you might find yourself having no time for people who try to re-impose the Or belief on you again. You might feel like someone who quit smoking or overeating whose friends who didn’t take the emotional challenge are trying to drag them back to their misery.

What harm is there in trying a belief for a while?

By the way, I’ll note that I’ll be happy to reject the And model if anyone shows me a reason to that works. So far no one has shown me evidence that the Or model of introversion and extraversion has any greater validity than the And model. They just keep talking about how they get tired at parties, as if extraverted people didn’t.

Tomorrow I’ll follow up by showing how shifting from using the Or model to an And model shifts how you look at introversion and extraversion — specifically as a set of skills that you can develop and empower yourself with as opposed to set of (imagined) restrictions that confine you.

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49 responses on “Introversion is not the opposite of extroversion, part 1

  1. This really helped me and came at the exact time I needed. Thank you!

  2. This post changed my belief. Thanks Joshua.

    • Great to hear. I hope it leads to improving your life in general, beyond just one area.

      I hope you not just adopt one new belief, but improve your ability to create and change beliefs in general. As I wrote in my book, “I’d rather you learned to create your own beliefs and forgot mine than didn’t learn the skill and adopted all my models.”

  3. Time limits you in developing all traits. You have to choose between being fit or smart or social or professional. Sure you can develop any of these traits, but you have to choose which. My statement supports both models. Now what?!

    • Perhaps there are diminishing returns with additional time invested. To use the fit/smart example, maybe a person who spends 59 hours a week studying and 1 hour jogging will be more productive than a person who spends 60 hours studying and 0 hours jogging.

      • I agree time constraints limit you from doing everything, or as I posted before: You have to say no to a lot of good things to have a great life —

        That said, I don’t find social skills fade as quickly as fitness. It took me a couple years of work to get over the hump of having poor extroversion skills, but then for the rest of my life it doesn’t take much to bring them back up. Sure, I withdraw sometimes in social situations, but I can force myself to interact and then things come back to me. By contrast, if I don’t exercise, I put fat on pretty quick and I can’t just get it off that quickly. I exercise daily as a result and keep thin.

        This post describes how I view social skills development — Once you get past the cusp, it gets easier to keep them than to lose them.

    • I concur time limits ones ability to develop all skills. And some people don’t care to develop certain sets of skills. People who don’t care about social skills hopefully find reward, meaning, and purpose in other areas, in which case they don’t need to bother with these things.

      In my experience learning social and emotional skills so vastly improved my life I can think of fewer things more important to work on for people who don’t have them.

      While time constrains how much you can focus on anything, I find developing social skills to proficiency doesn’t take that much of a lifetime. By proficiency, I mean so that when problems requiring what we call introversion or extroversion arises, you can solve them sufficiently often without feeling overly drained after — so you don’t have to run away from most problems but can instead tackle them.

      To become a world leader in both sets of skills at once is a much higher hurdle I would agree time constrains most people from overcoming. Basic proficiency, on the other hand, most people can do. And I expect the rewards will be worth it, no matter which set of skills you started with and which you lacked.

    • I disagree. The problem isn’t a time constraint. It is taking the time to do things. Recently despite dealing with multiple problems at home, I have taken the time to read, do some things to maintain/improve my stamina, while still being professional and social. I am an introvert by nature, but I am very much a social and extroverted person when a situation arises that requires me to be such

  4. I finally can articulate my thoughts on introversion and extroversion! I’ve never bought the dichotomous relationship, but everyone asked me to pick one, so I’d put myself in the middle.

    Thank you for bringing clarity to my worldview. I feel comfortable on the X and Y dimensions, and can explain it to others as well.

    Life changing. Thank you, Josh.

    And, of course, the broader principle is extremely helpful as well. Confirmation bias + try on another belief system for a while, see how it goes. Brilliant.

    • Thank you for the comment.

      As I wrote to someone on Hacker News: I expected the majority of readers would respond by defending the model they were used to and attack alternatives, never considering that their model would wither equally or more from such an attack. The standard model most people have has no basis, it’s just commonly held.

      Thank you for your comment. The perspective change came to me over years of personal effort, observation, and finding so little basis in the Or view. It’s gratifying to see someone describe it as you did. I hope it helps.

  5. Posts like this are making it even harder for introverts to accept their nature. They try to be more extroverted (which they are not) and then they get totally exhausted by this “chase for extroversion”!
    It’s not a freaking “set of skills”! It’s the brain chemistry, deep inside each of us!

    • Just because someone is one way doesn’t mean they can’t change. Many people overcome hurdles your perspective would imply impossible. Even if it is brain chemistry, as you say, that in no means you can’t change their brain chemistry. All habits and skills make your brain the way it is, and new ones can change it.

      That said, I’d be very interested in scientific bases for the claim it’s brain chemistry. If you can cite sources, I’d love to follow them up. Having developed extroversion skills myself, I value this topic highly and love learning more.

      • Autism research is highly applicable here. To understand why, it’s important to realize that as currently understood autism is more like the 99th percentile of introversion (and other possibly-related traits) than it is like a “disease” someone “has” or doesn’t have. i.e. autism is not “other” but just continuum from normal.

        What one can learn from autism research is BOTH that there’s something genetic that sends people down a path of better or worse social skills; AND that those skills can be learned if we have a growth rather than fixed mindset and receive effective coaching.

        I take your post to be saying that people should not have a fixed mindset about social ability and interest, and I agree 100%. (for what I mean by growth/fixed see e.g. ).

        It remains true that learning those skills will be much harder for some people than others – especially for adults with a lifetime of feedback loop where they may have much less practice and may have had negative experiences leading to anxiety, etc. – so people do have to forgive themselves when they find certain things harder. But you are right that we can all change and learn.

  6. Interesting article, but I think you conflated shy and socially needy with introverted and extroverted. They aren’t the same things. Being an extrovert does not mean you don’t like spending time alone, it means you don’t necessarily get energy from being alone. Maybe you could follow up w an article about why people think introversion equates to being less social.

    • My thoughts exactly Charles. Well put, I found lacking those definitions missing in this article. Although it is an interesting perspective, I found missing the psychological accepted definitions missing.

      • What definitions? All I see are labels that would basically fall under the same criticism of, picking one model promoting the standard view of introversion and extroversion, the Big Five model. Myers-Briggs fails even more.

        As someone on Hacker News wrote: “Introvert and extrovert are outdated terms as meaningless as Freudian oral and anal types, or the word hysteria.” I agree. The introversion and extroversion spectrum model has little basis and constrains people from improving their lives.

        From an old paper (Hans J. Eysenck (1992). “Four ways five factors are not basic”. Personality and Individual Differences 13 (8): 667–673.): Summary-This is a reply to the Costa and McCrae article entitled: “Four ways five factors are basic” [(1992) Personality and Individual Differences, 13(6), 6534651. This article takes up the challenge and discusses four major criticisms of the Sfactor model. The first criticism relates to the level of the hierarchical model of personality at which different factors arise, suggesting that 3 of the 5 factors in the Costa and McCrae model are essentially primaries, often highly intercorrelated, and linked closely with psychoticism. The second criticism is directed at the failure of Costa and McCrae to discuss the overwhelming evidence from m&a-analyses of factorial studies that 3, and not 5 factors emerged at the highest level. The third criticism is directed at the lack of a nomological network or theoretical underpinning for the 5 factors, and the fourth is directed at the failure of providing a biological link between genetic causation and behavioural organization. All four criticisms suggested that the postulation of the 5-factor model is a premature crystallization of spurious orthodoxy.

        Nomological: Pertaining to or expressing general laws that lack logical necessity — that is, the model have no reason to be there.

        I would love to see a reason to consider psychological definitions more meaningful than they’ve been around for a while, but I don’t see any. I’d love to be shown wrong. In the meantime, every person with great skills in both areas we associate with the labels introversion and extroversion undercut those definitions.

  7. One thing that is missing is how you would now define the origin for each axis of the and-model. In the and-model, would the origin be somebody that is uncomfortable in public environments, AND is uncomfortable alone? Someone who doesn’t enjoy solitary activities AND doesn’t enjoy group activities? Someone who doesn’t like to listen, and doesn’t like to talk? It seems as if no matter the situation they’re in, they can’t win. I don’t even know if it is possible, and if it is, it probably represents a mentally-ill person.

    One might say that the or-model has this same origin problem too (a 0-point right in the middle of the two arrows.) But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this 0-point for extroversion and introversion on the or-model would be about the perfect balance, really: Someone who can enjoy being alone, but also enjoy group activities. Someone who enjoys listening, and can also enjoy speaking.

    As someone from the USA, the best example I can give is the Right-wing/Left-wing spectrum. Ideally, most people would like to identify themselves somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, because at one far end, the person would believe that total lack of government is best (anarchy), whereas the other far end has the government being in complete control of everything. (At least, this is my understanding of this spectrum.) Most people in the USA are not at these extremes. (I hope not, anyway. Sometimes I wonder…)

    I get what you’re saying about putting fitness and intelligence on two different axes, but there’s a reason this makes sense: These are two completely different dimensions anyway. One can, through effort, make themselves stronger, and can do it without affecting their intelligence.

    The single-axis introversion/extroversion scale is basically taking a multidimensional evaluation of somebody, and then collapsing it down to a single dimension. I don’t even know how many dimensions there are to a person’s social preferences… 2? 3? 4? 20? Who knows.

    I’ll still use or-model, rather than the and-model. Why? Because now, we have no more opposites, just a lack-of-introvertedness and a lack-of-extrovertedness, which I’m still trying to comprehend. What does it mean to lack all of the qualities of introvertedness, and to lack all the qualities of extrovertedness?

    If somebody were to ask me if I’m an introvert or an extrovert, I’d tell them I’m an introvert. I do enjoy being alone, but that can get pretty boring. I find myself listening more than talking, but I can also give a presentation at work with no problem. I don’t go to many parties, but when I do, I can converse easily enough. I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it constantly.

    Just as it is damaging to call oneself a complete left-wing or complete right-wing, it is also damaging to call oneself a complete introvert or a complete extrovert. One must find a balance between the two, and this balance is the center.

    • You make a lot of points and ask a lot of questions. I’ll do my best to address the ones that intrigued me most.

      Regarding the origin of the And model, I would think of that as someone with neutral skills in both sets of skills. I think of the axes going to negative values too — corresponding to someone whose skills get them the opposite of their goals. For example, imagine someone who believes they have great conflict resolving skills, jumps into conflicts to resolve them, and makes them worse. Or someone who believes they negotiate well and ends up with worse or no deals as a result of using those skills.

      Regarding the definitions of either model, I created my model from a different perspective. With my background in physics, where we can perform experiments to reduce error bars very well, creating psychological models from first principles seems hopelessly impossible for the knowledge we have in my lifetime. I created my model to help people improve their lives. Since the Or model has no incontrovertible foundation, I prefer the And model, since it helps me improve my life more. If you find the Or model improves your life more, that’s great for you, though maybe my including the negative sides to the axes may help the And model resonate more with you.

  8. There are definitely some innate factors, but agreed that it’s partially a skills issue.

    • Thank you for the wonderful link.

      That post reminded me of two things — how for so long I wouldn’t and almost couldn’t look people in the eye for at least the first twenty years of my life. I would pay attention to them, but I would look anywhere but in their eyes. I remember people commenting on it. I didn’t think anything of it because it felt so uncomfortable to look people in the eye.

      Second, how much effort I put into overcoming my lack of skills to socialize. It was hard, but possible. As your link suggested, the more I did it, the more comfortable things like looking people in the eye became, which made doing it more easier, as in the feedback loop as in that article.

      I found a lot familiar and that I could agree with in the article.

  9. Absolutely agree with you! As a kid i used to be an all introvert, shy and liking being solitary. As i grew up, i decided to take on the challenge to be an extrovert. And i am now. A lot of my past friends are surprised at it. However, as i look back now, i can clearly see that both(extroversion and introversion) have their own pros and cons, and am now practicing controlling what i am when.

    • Great to hear from you.

      I also spent many Friday nights in the library and stood on the sides of parties, not knowing what to say or do to socialize.

      Now people think I was naturally the way I seem in groups now — outgoing, gregarious, and enjoying myself. I learned to be this way. I also never unlearned how to focus and work in solitude.

      While we do have physical limitations, our beliefs can constrain us or free us. I’m glad to hear you’ve created solutions that work for you independent of the same constraints I also found so limiting and baseless.

  10. Thoughtful article, but could you address the energy question? Introversion and extroversion about where you get your energy, and that’s tied up with brain chemistry. An introvert is quickly exhausted in a crowd, whereas an extrovert gets very energized in a crowd. I’ve tested the theory on my extroverted husband, by encouraging him to go out when he’s tired, and he comes home very energized. Notice I say HE goes out… I go out if I have the required energy, because the same event will drain me, and I’ll have to recharge in quiet solitude.

    • The results of your experiment sound consistent with my description of your having developed skills helpful in one environment and your husband having developed skills helpful in another — by no means suggesting either of you can’t change and develop.

      Three past posts of mine address what people call energy or enthusiasm, which describes not so much the chemical energy in your muscles or bloodstream, but one’s expectation of success, largely based on one’s skills and possible outcomes. Check out these three posts:

      • Thanks for the reply! But when I use the word energy, I don’t mean enthusiasm or confidence. Of course some activities will fill us with enthusiasm and some will not. That’s an individual thing.

        On a daily basis we are either gaining energy or losing energy. One way to gain energy is to eat; there is no mindset that can override that. But there are other ways too. A person needs to be self-aware to know where they get their energy (other than eating & sleeping) and where it is drained. Brain chemistry is part of the explanation. Dopamine is a chemical that helps us feel good. Too much or too little can be a real problem. Introverts already have plenty of dopamine. Extroverts tend not to have so much and need to make it. Dopamine is made via adrenaline. This is why extroverts like to get out and have “fun” (they are making dopamine) while introverts will save adrenaline for an actual emergency (because they’ll be overdosed in the resulting dopamine). There are other biological reasons, but that’s enough for now.

        At the end of the day it’s about respect… for the self and for each other. Introverts are also the people who are used to needing “fixing.” It’s important to know that there is no fixing required. We need all kinds!

  11. I agree with a lot of the points you make in general, but don’t believe they apply to the introversion vs extroversion spectrum. The “theory” that is flawed in your article, which allowed you to see it this way, was that you viewed these traits as “skills”. They are not. Introversion and Extroversion are different ends of an axis in a dimension on the variable cognitive-stimulation.

    Extroverts are mentally stimulated by social interactions, that is, they need human contact in order to relax/recharge their minds. Pure extroverts deeply need external human contact in order to feel healthy (those at the very end of the spectrum).

    Introverts, on the other hand, have the opposite need to achieve the same result. That is, in order for them to recharge/relax their minds, they MUST decouple from other humans. A pure introvert very deeply needs significant time alone because most of their mental energy is generated internally.

    Of course, being a spectrum, people fall somewhere in between in how much time alone they need, and how much social interaction they find energizing. It has absolutely nothing to do with how talkative, enthusiastic or assertive one is.

    Introversion vs extroversion is more similar to the difference between warm and cold blooded animals. Warm blooded animals generate their own heat, and cold blooded animals internal temperature is regulated by external environments. Introverts generate their own mental stimulation, and extroverts internal stimulation is highly regulated by external stimulation (easier for them to feel bored or depressed if not around others, and the opposite is true for introverts – they can get bored or depressed if around people too much).

    Full disclosure: I’m fairly far into the introvert side of the spectrum.

    • The “theory” you described is no less flawed. You’re just more familiar with it. It has no more solid foundation than the And model. If your model helps you live your life better, great, but that doesn’t make it right any more than my model working better for me makes mine right.

      I’m very familiar with the model you described. I didn’t disagree with it because I didn’t know about it. I disagreed with it because I had a more useful alternative and no compelling reason to believe it.

  12. In case you don’t see it yet, “boy” and “girl” is also an OR model.

    • I tend to agree with you, though not everyone does. Living in Manhattan’s West Village, I see many types that don’t fit neatly into either male or female or that fit into both. Modern medicine seems to be blurring the lines and expanding the possibilities. People are born with many combinations of X’s and Y’s beyond what I learned in biology class, as well as anatomy.

      But I’d say that’s outside the scope of this post. I’ll leave it to others who know more than I to propose or refute an And model of sex or gender.

      • Maybe you should reconsider using “OR” when you mean exclusive or as in “XOR”, because it actually allows for both:

        true OR false => true
        false OR true => true
        true OR true => true

  13. I don’t know why you bother using the terms introvert and extrovert if you are just going to toss out their definitions to suit your purpose. By definition they are opposites. You replace their definitions with stereotypes because otherwise your argument doesn’t work.

    It’s much healthier to subscribe to the binary system while avoiding the stereotypes, than to subscribe to any system that uses those stereotypes. The system you’ve created here gives people justification for sneering at self-identified introverts who don’t like parties and self-identified extroverts who hate to be alone. I’m sure you’ll attract people with it, after all, it’s a basic human desire to feel superior to the Other. But let’s be honest with the purpose here.

    • My main purpose was to help people relieve themselves from the constraints of a model with little to no basis beyond people creating definitions and labeling people with them, implying they couldn’t change. I made no value judgments between introversion and extroversion nor implied any reason to sneer. Do you feel one is better than the other?

      You ascribed to me motivations I didn’t have. Do you feel superior?

  14. I’m a bit puzzled as to why you seem to convinced that being less introverted is an improvement of your life. Your article seems biased, in the sense that you’re trying to get introverts to improve their extro-skills, but not the other way around. It’s OK that you’re feeling a little sad about having missed out on parties, but that’s no reason to try and talk people into thinking that extroversion will ‘improve’ their lives.

    I don’t think the OR model is right, for the record, but I do think your (self-)improvement mumbo-jumbo is.

    • “less introverted”? … The point of the And model is that increasing extroversion doesn’t mean becoming less introverted. Suggesting developing skills associated with extroversion means becoming less introverted is a consequence of the Or model, which I don’t agree with.

      I’m promoting a model that doesn’t tell people they are constrained to living one way. The Or model is so pervasive people don’t realize when they talk about it that they aren’t talking about reality, as you did when you connected increasing extroversion skills with becoming less introverted, despite my never decreasing my introversion skills.

      What I suggest improves their lives is realizing that they can adopt an alternative to the model saying they couldn’t change. That model has no more foundation than Freud’s old model of anal and oral types, as I noted above. Freedom from that model creates freedom to live your life more how you want, which I consider improvement.

  15. I disagree completely with this post, both on the form and the substance.

    My biggest problem with it is that you are attacking a strawman. (Though I don’t think you are doing it on purpose, or for nefarious ends, of course.) The definitions you use for introversion and extroversion aren’t the ones which are commonly accepted. For one, you are conflating shyness with introversion, which is a “condition” (I’m using quotes because I can’t find of a better word) which is often correlated with introversion. Shyness is simply the quietness that people will naturally adopt when they are *socially anxious*. They fear being judged by other people. It’s a normal thing and many people are affected by that, but somehow introverted people more than other – and imho, this is because our world lauds extroverted behaviours and views introverted behaviours as “antisocial”.

    So who are introverts and extroverts?
    First, let’s make it clear and precise: introversion/extroversion is a spectrum. You can be on one side, on the other, in the middle and anywhere in between.
    Second, you are not born introvert and extrovert, and it is not something that is immutable. I think that it is the point that you are trying to attack in your essay, and I think we agree on this (although we disagree on the consequences of the fact that people can change themselves, more on that later). We are the products of our environments more than the products of our genetics (except for outlier cases), and the common myth in our society is that someone’s character is “fixed” and something you are born into. That’s false, of course. You can start your life as an introvert and five years later be more on the extrovert side of the spectrum, just like you can start as an angry and quick-tempered person and end up being stoic and cool-tempered. I cannot emphasize this enough. People will read about “brain chemistry” and they think “genetically determined”, but they forget about neuroplasticity: our brains are plastic and keep on evolving throughout our lives (although at a much lower rate than during childhood).
    Third, there is no “pure introvert”, neither is there a “pure extrovert”. And the distribution is a classical Gaussian curve, with extrema being rare.

    Now let’s dive into your definitions.
    Your definition of introverts is that they’re “more reserved and less outspoken in groups”. That’s completely false in general. In fact, introverts can be very vocal and talkative in groups, but the characteristic is that: group activies will drain the energy of an introvert, and it will drain her energy at a much faster rate if the less close they are to the people they interact with. That’s why introverts won’t be very vocal at big parties, or at parties with unknown people. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy socializing though: for example geeks, a population that is notoriously skewed towards introverts, do party a lot. But in any case, introverts will *need* time to recharge. Even if they had the greatest evening, or holidays with friends, or dinner with their family ever. What introverts value the most, is their inner dialogue. Their inner world. Which is why they also tend to greatly enjoy solitary activities.

    On the other hand, extroverted people strive on social interactions. That take great pleasure in meeting and interacting with people, especially new people. They need the social interaction more than introverts. Of course, that doesn’t meant that they will enjoy every type of social gathering, or that they won’t need some time alone as well.

    You can’t be both recharged and drained by social interactions, and that’s the difference between introverts and extroverts. But you can be somewhat neutral, and the side which you are on can vary over time, as I said, which is why most people won’t strongly identify with one or the other.

    You say: “All skills you don’t have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don’t drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.”
    That’s one of the fundamental mistakes you make: introversion is not simply a lack of social skills. It does correlate with a lack of social skills, in our (Western) extroverts-above-all societies. But it’s not the same. There plenty of highly socially skilled introverts, with many of the successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs actually fitting quite well the introverted type (to a certain extent, of course: remember, this is a spectrum, not a binary classificatin): Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page…

    Also, when you say “They just keep talking about how they get tired at parties, as if extraverted people didn’t.”
    Again, we’re talking about a spectrum, not a binary classification. The more introverted a person is, the more she will be exhausted by all kinds of social interactions and will need some time alone (for that inner dialogue). Some types of social interactions are more taxing than others: being with a loved one or a close friend is much less demanding than being with a group of complete strangers. The same is true for extroverts: a mildly extroverted person will benefit more from interactions with close people than she will from a casual encounters at a party. And there is a whole lot of people who are in the middle of the spectrum, and becausse they are close to that whether they are drained or recharged by a social interaction will also depend more on the environment (mood, people involved, etc.).
    But all people have that characteristic, and even if some people can change over time, doesn’t mean that any given time, they aren’t somewhere on the scale. You are denying the fact a person’s position on the 1 dimensional scale of introversion / extroversion is fixed, by proving that some people who lack social skills can tip a bit further towards extroversion if they learn these social skills (which I agree with). But your conclusion is false: proving that the position of people on that scale isn’t fixed, doesn’t mean that the scale isn’t 1 dimensional.

    I want to take a few more words to attack the form you use in your essay, because in addition to the straw man I mentioned earlier, there are two things that are (imo) really wrong with your essay:
    1. The obnoxious analogy between fit and intelligent, and introversion and extroversion. Reasoning by analogy is one of the poorest form of reasoning because 99% of the time, the fault in the reasoning is based on the fact that the two things which you are stating are similar, actually aren’t. In your case, while I completely agree that you can be fit and intelligent, I disagree with the premise that fitness and intelligence is similar to introversion and extroversion, except in the superficial way in which you attack them. “People say that you can’t be fit and intelligent, that’s false, and people say that you can’t be introverted and extroverted, so that that’s false too”. Nope. People say a lot of things, and in particular people use the words introverted / extroverted wrong, and people tend to conflate several notions that are correlated, yet different (shyness/introversion/antisocial/lack of social skills vs outgoing/extroversion/gregarious/socially skilled).
    Unfortunately you spend a lot of words proving your point about fitness and intelligence (and nobody will deny that the stereotypical nerd with glasses and jock bully are social constructions), but you spend little time explaining why they are similar.
    2. The worse is that you use loaded vocabulary all throughout your essay. You depict introverted people as weak, sad, and close-minded people, why the extroverted are joyful and strong. Let me quote:
    “I’m going to show how it worsens your life and offer an alternative you will resist and fight against, but if you keep an open mind you’ll realize explains your world more effectively and helps you to improve your life. ”
    “They’ve had decades to build lives around that belief and the change threatens their system of rewards. They’ve avoided parties out of feelings of helplessness they considered innate and unchanging that this model implies they learned. It suggests they could take responsibility for improving their lives in areas they never tried to and now realize their inaction prevented them from joy and achievement.”
    “Such people will no doubt compile and present evidence proving their Or model correct and the And model wrong, which those of us who see opportunity to grow, learn, and improve our lives will see as showing their confirmation bias more than anything else.”
    “I recommend rereading the last section, substituting introversion and extraversion for fitness and intelligence and an open mind.” (Yuck! Did you call me close-minded because I disagree with the similarity between fitness and intelligence??)
    I disagree heavily with the depiction of introverted people that you make, of course. “Acting like an extrovert” doesn’t make you necessarily happy, especially if you aren’t sad in the first place!
    Learning social skills is useful, but it’s not THAT useful. Most people will do really fine with only basic skills.
    3. You attack the “And model” as having no scientifical basis – of course it doesn’t, it’s psychology 😉 – but you propose an alternative theory (which as I’ve shown is based on misunderstanding basic definitions of introversion and extroversion, and conflating shyness and lack of social skills for introversion), which isn’t more based on science, and unlike the theory you attack, has no wide consensus across psychologists! (“Big Five”)
    Let me quote again: “If they have evidence contradicting the And model of introversion and extraversion, I would love to see it.”
    Double standard! You’d love to see evidence FOR the OR model (well, for your understanding of the OR model, which is based on wrong definitions), but you’d like evidence AGAINST the AND model!
    And because psychology isn’t “true” science, you won’t see one or the other, simply because these are unfalsifiable models.

    TL;DR: Introversion/Extroversion isn’t a binary classificator. It’s a spectrum. A person’s position on that spectrum isn’t fixed over time. The position isn’t quantifiable via rigorous scientific means. Introversion is conflated with some behaviours (shyness and lack of social skills) because our (Western) societies uses extroverts as a model.

    It’s really too bad that your essay has the flaws that I mention, because the message deep down is positive.
    “Don’t get stuck into negative thinking and self-deprecating loops”, “You are what you think you are – you can change”, “Social skills are useful, because they can help you overcome social anxiety”. All of these valuable and often untold truths. But they’re unfortunately hidden by the weaknesses I mentioned.

    I’ll talk a bit about myself to prove a point and give some anecdotal evidence. I’m a pretty big introvert myself. I’d say that I fall around slighlty beneath 2 sigmas into the introversion spectrum (I’d consider myself more introverted that 90-95% of people). Up until a few years ago, I had really terrible social skills. I worked on improving them, and I do decently. In small(ish) groups, especially when I’m familiar with them, and unless I’m in a really bad mood, I’ll been one of the loudest and most verbose person. But at the end of the day, I’m just not that interested in people. I don’t enjoy that much. I enjoy the intellectual excitation of debating with people, but after a few hours I still long for the time I’ll be home. Spending the whole day with my best (and way more extroverted) friends is something that I dread, because I know at some point I’ll have to escape for some time alone. I spent the best holidays of my life this summer, spending a week where I lived in close proximity, some of which I consider friends (and one of which was a bit more for a brief period of time), and yet, despite having lived the greatest 10 days of the last 5 years, I still longed for some time alone and regularly escaped. I’m an introvert. You can’t deny that. I don’t need better social skills when I’m with my best friends, because I have absolutely no anxiety when I’m with them; but I still need some time to escape when I spend more than half a day with them. That’s what being an introvert is. (I’m currently single, but my experience with romantic partners has been similar) I live in a family with 2 strong introverts (my brother and I), and 2 strong extroverts (sister and mother). I’ve had plenty of friends from all positions of the spectrum. Interestingly, my best friends are usually more extroverted. (My girlfriends, on the other hand, are almost all exclusively introverted.) I work in software engineering, which is a typically full of introverted people (and many of them are very smart, and FIT! I’ve never met so many hard-training amateur athletes).

    If you haven’t read “Quiet” by Susan Cain, please do. For what it’s worth, this is one of the rare books that changed my views and my life . She talks a lot about introverted “successful” people, the rise of the extroverted type as a model in Western societies (interestingly, this is a typical West European / American thing, with Asian countries and North European countries being much more favorable to introverted types, though for different cultural reasons – to take two stereotypically introverted countries, think about Japan and Finland), etc… And details a lot of things I talk about in this commentary. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s really great.

    • While I appreciate the time you took to reply, since what you wrote is based on “First, let’s make it clear and precise: introversion/extroversion is a spectrum. You can be on one side, on the other, in the middle and anywhere in between,” you described a model. The “spectrum” you described is a belief. Believing in it leads you to see the world as you do. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t make it “right” in any absolute sense.

      Please review this post — — for the problems with thinking your beliefs are reality. Someone else once said “the map is not the territory,” which I find useful.

      I don’t agree with your model — not because I don’t understand it. On the contrary *because* I understand it. Once I reject the model, the definitions of terms within it become unimportant.

      All this true/false/right/wrong talk of yours is describing *consistency with your model*, not with any absolute truth or rightness. I completely agree with you that the And model is false by the terms of the Or model. That’s my goal. As I wrote, I find that model worsens people’s lives by leading them to believe themselves helpless.

      If that model works for you, that’s your business and I’m happy for you. It doesn’t work for me and you’re telling me I’m wrong doesn’t make that model any more appealing. Actually, it reinforces its lack of appeal to me.

  16. Plenty of introverts enjoy human interaction. Plenty of extroverts enopy fishing or reading.

    Introversion and extroversion aren’t skills or characteristics or behaviours. They’re based on how you gain and lose energy. They’re based in neurological differences in the brain and reaction to stimulus.

    A left handed person can learn to write with his/her right hand but that doesn’t make the person right handed”.

    • You’re describing a model. I don’t accept that model — not for not understanding it but for understanding it well — so of course my definitions will seem inconsistent with your model. And if you confuse your model with reality, you’ll think my definitions are wrong, but they aren’t they’re just inconsistent with your model.

      In my model your definitions don’t make sense either. I used that model for years before realizing and developing alternatives. It’s possible introversion and extroversion are like handed-ness. Do you have evidence suggesting so, because I’ve never seen any, despite many people saying just what you said? I would be the first to say I was wrong if I found evidence suggesting so. In the meantime, we’re so far from understanding the mind to a level of accuracy to say one way or the other, all we have are models and I recommend choosing ones that suggest you can improve your life, not that suggest you are powerless to and should just accept a fate I’ve seen many people transcend. If you prefer helplessness, that’s your business and I won’t argue with you what’s right for you, but that doesn’t make it right for anyone else.

      If handed-ness were on a one-dimensional spectrum, there would be no place for ambidextrous people. Just like there are people who score very high in left- and right-handed-ness, implying a one-dimensional scale is inadequate, there are people who score high in introversion and extroversion. I don’t find a one-dimensional scale adequate there either.

  17. I’m not qualified to asses the model but It’s a good post. I learned from some good discussion.

    This is probably a bit off the topic , but interestingly more and more studies show that so-called “self-help” makes people feel worse. Why? I don’t think any models or techniques per se are necessarily flawed but potentially their fundamental premises are.

    Firstly, many believe they want something that they actually don’t: Modern society tells us that ,say, extroversion, is good and those people are featured everywhere(this creates confirmation bias as well). People are fooled to think it’s what they want but If extroversion is not actually what they want at a deeper level, whatever they do, it usually doesn’t work. So I think people should know what they really want outside of the values socialites impose on them before they adopt any models.

    Secondly, many want to have one solid identity (or they mix up skills with personalities): We are all multiply-layered complicated animals. Trying to have the “extrovert” personality against the internal “introvert” surely creates pressure. I enjoy gatherings in my professional capacity and I’m pretty good at them but outside of it, I definitely prefer small circles and pulling off the professional facade at parties is tiring. I’m comfortable with these two conflicting desires and personalities but some people just want to be extroverted everywhere(I guess it’s also easier to just go on one direction?) and this can be a cause of “I want what I actually don’t want” as well.

    But how do we know what we really want or when we want it ? or as Sam Harris says, whatever we do, everything’s already determined by our brains? I just wonder.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Your third paragraph illustrates to me the confusion the concepts of introversion and extroversion create. They lead people to think, “I want to be like that person. They are extroverted. Therefore I want to become extroverted,” like they have to become a new person. Not so easy to act on.

      The skills-based view gives people more manageable and actionable goals. Instead of feeling you have to change yourself, it tells you you can pick up skills, the same as if you wanted to learn how to swim, ride a bike, cook, or whatever. You know it will take time, but others did it so you can too. Maybe I’m biased because that’s how I did it—I learned skill after skill I saw others had until I felt as natural doing what others call extroverted behavior as I do riding a bike.

      Your next paragraph reminds me of my view that everyone has many facets I wrote about in this post: “How to attract anyone, part 3.” Besides helping me enjoy meeting people more, it gives me flexibility and confidence to behave how I want when I want.

      Not sure how relevant my comments were, but they are what I thought about reading your post.

  18. I agree with your conclusion, but disagree with your premise. You state that are “using the terms introversion and extraversion as shorthand for sets of skills, each of which one can learn independently.” I agree with your conclusion that many people can develop the skills and behaviors typically correlated with introversion and extraversion. I disagree with your premise that introversion and extraversion are defined as a set of skills. It’s my understanding that they are instead defined by an individual’s preference for focusing their psychic energy inwardly on thoughts and ideas or outwardly on people and things. Any theory can be debunked if you are free to change the definition of terms.

    • I developed my ideas further in this post — — for more explanation.

      There is no theory to debunk. There are just two concepts people made up a while ago with no counterparts in the brain. Any theory can be made up by creating categories out of the blue and telling people they fall in them. “I disagree with your premise that introversion and extraversion are defined as a set of skills. It’s my understanding that they are instead defined by …” I don’t care how they are defined. Definitions are about words, not people. I care how using the terms affects people’s thinking, feeling, and behavior. For anyone who they help, great for them, but I find they discourage growth in people more than they encourage it. Trapping people in mental jails seems terrible to me, though I recognize some people prefer complacent acceptance.

      I prefer dropping the concepts to gain the mental and behavioral freedom they inhibit.

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