The words introvert and extravert have become part of everyday speech, often confused with ideas like shyness and sociability. However, according to Jung, extraversion and introversion refer to the direction of psychic energy. If a person’s energy usually flows outwards, he or she is an extravert. If the energy normally flows inwards, the person is an introvert.
Jung defined introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” Introverts tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate and reflective. They take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, watching movies, inventing and designing.
An introverted person is likely to enjoy time spent alone and tends to enjoy interactions one-to-one or with a few close friends. Introverts find it draining to be in extraverted situations and recharge their batteries when alone or in less social environments.
Jung explained extraversion as “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” Extraverts tend to seek human interactions more and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive and gregarious. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups.
Although we have a preference, we are neither entirely an introvert nor an extravert, yet fall somewhere along the continuum depending upon certain situations. Our jobs or hobbies may require us to be extraverted, and yet with family or friends we may relish our introversion opportunities.
Recent studies indicate different brain activity in introverts and extraverts. While extraverts mostly use their short-term memory and parts of the brain that deal with sensory impressions, introverts mainly use their long-term memory and parts of the brain that deal with solving problems, planning, and internal thoughts and feelings.
Additionally, each pathway requires different neurotransmitters. The extraversion pathway uses dopamine, which is associated with alertness, attention, movement, and learning and is required in large quantities to be happy. Activity and excitement increase dopamine production, and thus, extraverts enjoy being outwardly busy.
Introversion uses a brain pathway that is activated by acetylcholine and is connected with long-term memory, the ability to stay calm and alert, and perceptual learning. Acetylcholine produces a happy feeling during thinking and feeling, so introverts enjoy contemplation.
These neurology differences may help explain why extraverts tend to express experiences in more extreme ways (e.g., “That was the best movie ever!”) while introverts view situations in a more subdued way (e.g., “Yeah, the movie was good.”).
Regardless of where we fall along the extravert-introvert continuum, it is important to be aware of situations or times in our lives that drain or increase our energy. We can also be aware of others’ ways of perceiving situations as well as their preferences for alone time or social time, viewing these times as truly vital to one’s psychic health.
Whether curling up with a book or heading out to a public event, each recharging method is valuable.