A reader responds on the concepts of introversion and extroversion

March 31, 2014 by Joshua
in Awareness, Education, Nature

An attendee at a recent seminar I spoke at that covered the concepts of introversion and extroversion read my posts on them and wrote. I asked if I could share what she wrote here so others could benefits from her thoughts and our discussion and she agreed.

Hello! We met last night at the Gotta Be Good Tour at NYU, and talked briefly about the concept of extroversion-introversion.

It had never occurred to me to question this idea. I’d taken it for granted and it seemed patently true. Like many things people don’t yet question! So first, thank you for even questioning this concept and bringing it to my attention as something to be examined.

I’ve read your blog posts. Well-written and quite interesting! Some thoughts:

1. The relationship between energy and capability

My understanding of extroversion/introversion was that it had to do with energy and not capability. That an introvert could learn any social skills, but that it would cost more energy to use those skills. And thus has it been in my experience – I’ve learned how to be traditionally ‘extroverted’ when I want to be, though it tires me more than it seems to tire my outgoing friends (though, rightly as you say, that could very well be confirmation bias). But in your posts, energy and capability seem to be tightly related. So that if I were to run the following experiment:

Take a group of people who self-identify as extroverts, and another group of people who self-identify as introverts. Take their blood sugar before and after some event involving a lot of socializing.

: the blood sugar of the introvert group would have a greater difference compared to baseline than that of the extrovert group.

But put them in social skills training for, say, six months and run the experiment again. Traditional extrovert/introvert theory would predict that their energy levels (as measured by blood sugar) would experience the same relatively large drop as the first study. But your theory would predict that the introvert group energy loss would match that of the extrovert group, or at least be a significantly lower drop than the first study. Am I correct in assuming that this would be your prediction?

2. The relationship between energy and beliefs

Is my expectation that socializing is tiring causing socializing to actually be tiring? Certainly expectations do affect our experience of reality. But also reality shapes our expectations.

So before Carl Jung made up this extroversion/introversion thing, and created these expectations for people – if your theory is true, I’d expect to see no references in the literature to things relating to extraversion/introversion. Eg, I’d expect to see no mention of people getting tired from being around other people for an hour or two. Would you agree with this expectation?

3. How I wish the world was

I certainly LIKE your theory a whole lot more than the traditional one. And I’m always extra-suspicious of theories that make reality how I want it to be. But also that doesn’t mean that they aren’t true!

I’ve got a one-year-old niece, and I want her to grow up in a world where she doesn’t have to feel constrained by labels. I want your theory to be true.

4. Simplicity

Also, yes, your ideas are a lot simpler than the traditional one-dimensional model! (Unless the above experiments were performed and turned out not to support them, indicating that there are other factors that need to be taken into account).

In any case, I shall adopt your framework for the next month, and see if I can notice any changes!

Thanks for the ideas, and very nice to have met you! 🙂

– Grace Avery

I am glad for someone to read my posts and consider them in such depth.

To point 1, on “energy” (I would say motivation) and ability, I agree with your experiment in principle, though I expect the signal would be flooded by the noise. I’m not sure if blood sugar would be the best measure, but I agree with what you’re getting at. I would say that training people in skills improves their skill, which increases their motivation, which increases their use of skills, which keeps the process going. The effect with social skills would be the same with skills in sports, dancing, singing, chess, foreign languages, and so on.

I get tired quickly speaking French, which is a foreign language to me, but native French speakers don’t. Does that mean I’m fundamentally differently wired than them? No. It may be difficult to learn the language when older, but I can always improve.

To your second point, people say Jung “popularized” the terms and that they existed before him. In any case, I don’t know what beliefs they had before him, so I can’t predict how their beliefs might have affected their motivations. They might have felt more motivated but they might have felt less motivated too.

To your third point, I agree liking an idea or not doesn’t make it more or less accurate, but it can affect how you use it. In my experience, when I believed I couldn’t change I didn’t. I changed my beliefs and my life improved. The results of randomized double-blind tests aren’t as important to me as my personal experience. For that matter, the human emotional system is so much more complicated than experiments like this could determine in our lifetimes, we aren’t finding anything out scientifically anyway.

Also, I see no reason to accept the mainstream concepts of introversion and extroversion. People’s reasons that they feel right to them seem no more compelling than reasons to accept horoscopes.

I look forward to hearing how playing with the new ideas goes for you and whatever other thoughts come up.

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