Extraverts and Introverts


One of the common mistakes is to confuse introversion with terms like shyness, dorkiness, or antisocial. While these things often go together they are not synonyms.

The difference between extraversion and introversion is about two things: the level of activity they need to be comfortable and how they gather and burn mental energy.

Extraverts and Introverts Activity Levels

Comparing activity levels between extraverts and introverts. Stylized and exaggerated.

Extraverts have higher tolerance for activity. They can handle, indeed need, more stimulating environments. Social activity actually gives them energy. Their batteries are recharged by the stimulation and social activity. An absence of social activity or less stimulating environments actually drains the extravert’s battery. A day of quiet reading would leave them restless and bored. Despite the lack of activity they may well feel drained.

Introverts have higher tolerance for solitude. They can handle, indeed need, less stimulating environments. Social activity actually drains them energy. Their batteries are recharged by quiet time and a break from social activity. An absence of quiet time drains the introvert’s battery. A day full of activity, meetings, and socializing would leave them drained. A quiet day of working alone will invigorate them.

None of this means that introverts hate people or social life. Most introverts enjoy good and healthy social lives. It is just that their tolerance for continuous social engagement is lower. It is just that they prefer less stimulating environments.

Introverts are not necessarily shy (afraid of people). Introverts are not necessarily anti-social (dislike people). Introverts are not necessarily dorky (unable to relate to people). Introverts just find social activities tiring.

Each person will have a level of activity they find comfortable. Below that level they will feel bored and restless, above that level they will feel stressed. There is however a level of activity that is comfortably stimulating. Introverts will feel stress at a lower level of activity, but will avoid boredom during quieter times. Extraverts have a higher tolerance for stimulating environments but will get stressed during quieter periods.


Extraverts and Introverts Activity Levels (examples)

Example activity levels of extraverts and introverts. Stylised and exagerated.

A day of quite reading is comfortable for the introvert. It is just above his threshold for boredom. He might take a break and phone a friend but would not be bored or restless. For the extravert this is painful. It is deep down into his boredom range. He would need to take several phone or walkabout breaks. Even with those breaks he would be restless. To him it would be a long day.

A busy office might be pleasantly stimulating for the introvert. He has the chance for social activity but can retreat to his office or cube when he needs quiet time. Even at this level the extravert might be bored. He might wonder why there is “no fun here.” He will probably still be a bit restless unless his job requires lots of telephone contacts.

A crowded bar might be right at the top of an introvert’s comfort level. He will enjoy the music, the buzz, and being with friends. He might not want to do this every night but will find the evening tolerable from a stress point of view. He will still find the evening more tiring than the extravert. The extravert, unless the bar is very busy and loud, might still be bored. He will probably be looking for a more “happening” place. He may find it tolerable but would really be happier in a louder joint.

A loud club is well into the introvert’s stress zone. The level of activity is beyond where he is comfortable. The extravert is now in his element. All that noise and activity charges up his batteries. This is a pleasantly stimulating level of activity for the extravert.

Part 2 is also available

Update: September 21, 2009
Turns out some else said it all before and better. An article called All Introversion is Not the Same from the Psychology Today blog led me to another article Caring for Your Introvert. That second article (from 2003) says a lot of what I say here. I feel so unoriginal.


30 Responses to “Extraverts and Introverts”

  1. Hope Says:

    Introverts ftfw!

    (ftfw is an expression borrowed from my beloved :D)

  2. Default User Says:

    I love it when you talk dirty. I love it even more when you talk dirty about introverts…

  3. Bhetti Says:

    Ah, reading. It’s what I spent my formative years doing. Good times. Humanz are stressful. But also fun.

    I don’t know, Default, don’t feel like going into deep analysis of it. But I think it’s too simplistic. It’s a relation to your own self rather than other selves, fundamentally, maybe. Do you look inwards or outwards? It does correlate somewhat with how much you’re in other people’s company or how much you enjoy it, but not quite what it does do for your batteries.

    E.g. I find being engaged in introverted activity, which is what I naturally tend to do and largely prefer, also saps my energy. And breeds more introversion.

    So is introversion/extraversion more tendencies? Tendencies that can be unlearned?

    P.S. Please don’t use ellipses, Default, please.

  4. Default User Says:


    “Please don’t use ellipses”

    OK I will not use ellipses but I will use a question mark because I am not sure I understand.

    Of course it is a simplistic model, but I think it does explain at least some part of introversion. I was mostly interested in showing that introversion does not mean shyness or an anti-social bent.

    Remember even introverts need social contact. Those times when you felt sapped might have been times when you were below your boredom threshold. You could be more of an extravert than you think. Just because you like cerebral activities does not make you an introvert.

    I think introversion/extraversion is a good bit of nature and some nurture. I think introverts are born. I believe some studies have shown differences in brain structure (probably the amygdala), startle response of introverted/extraverted babies, etc. After that nurture tends to reinforce the introversion as the introverted child partakes of introverted activities.

    The introvert can probably learn to be a bit less introverted by practice. They can possibly “condition” themselves to have higher tolerance for loud parties, etc.

  5. Bhetti Says:

    Ooh, fun subject! See we cover all these topics at lightning skimming-the-surface pace because there’s Just So Much. And the additional task of setting apart science from pseudoscience.

    What’s wrong with ellipses:
    I think examples are worth 1000 explanations.

    Well ok maybe a hint to explanations:

  6. Default User Says:

    Did you know that ellipsis are a distinct character (ascii code 133, html code #8230) and not just three periods?

    Many word processors and some blog (including WordPress) will convert three periods to an ellipsis character.
    To type an ellipsis you can type [alt]0133. For for HTML use & #8230;.

    I will be careful of my use of emollipsis/alexllipsis in future. Thank you for the warning.

  7. Bhetti Says:

    ellipses = plural, ya?

  8. Bhetti Says:

    Or maybe I should say…
    ellipses = plural, ya …?

  9. Default User Says:

    yes, I believe so…
    yes, I believe so[alt]0133
    yes, I believe so & #8320;

  10. David Alexander Says:

    I am merely sub-human. 😛

    I’m a bit of a weird case. My hobbies tend to be rather solitary like photography, riding trains, or driving around for fun, and I admittedly eschew hanging out with other people who are into those things out of shyness, jealously, and a desire to avoid weirder people. Mind you, I like having company around at other times, and it’s during those times when I’m not distracted by a hobby that create feelings of loneliness.

    The introvert can probably learn to be a bit less introverted by practice.

    The problem is that for an introvert like myself, it’s far easier to stay in my comfort zone than to go somewhere that’s uncomfortable to me due to a fear of public embarrassment or “bad people”.

  11. Default User Says:

    @David Alexander

    I don’t get the “jealously” aspect.

    On “bad” or weird people:
    I agree, the loneliest time is not when you have nobody else around but when you are surrounded by those with whom you just do not fit in.

    On your comfort zone:
    It is true that moving out of your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable but it is also very satisfying. Imagine that wonderful feeling as you look back and realize that I couldn’t do that before but now I can. Once you have pushed past that discomfort you comfort zone is now permanently wider giving more things you can do freely.

    It is unfair that some seem to be born bristling with confidence and energy and some are not. It is unfair that some are born with strong health while some suffer disabilities. And I do see introversion as a “disability” but it is not like blindness, more like asthma. It makes it harder to achieve some things but can be worked around. The asthmatic might never run the four-minute mile but he can probably walk a beautiful mountain trail.

    You have to decide what things are important to you, what things you would like to do, what experiences would make you happy. If any of those lies outside your current comfort zone then you have to make that uncomfortable journey. The journey is crappy but the view at the destination is magic.

    Any more references to “sub-human” by you on this blog will be replaced (Roissy style) by the words “alpha in training.” I will leave the current use of that phrase alone, but you have been warned.

  12. Bhetti Says:

    I do see introversion as a “disability” but it is not like blindness, more like asthma.
    Well, I don’t know. Most criminals are extroverts, no?

  13. Bhetti Says:


  14. Hope Says:

    Look at your own graph. Introverts are not usually bored, and extroverts are always bored. I’d rather be an introvert!

    “Introverts, in contrast, tend to be more reserved, less outgoing, but are also marked by a richer inner world. They are not necessarily loners but they tend to have smaller circles of friends and are less likely to thrive on making new social contacts. Introverts are less likely to seek stimulation from others because their own thoughts and imagination are stimulating enough.”

    See? We provide our own entertainment. Introverts rock!

    “Americans live in an extroverted society that rewards extrovert behavior and rejects introversion. American culture values extroverted qualities more, and people often feel like they’ve been given the ‘short end of the stick’ after receiving their results on extroversion/introversion tests.”

    East Asia for the most part have introverted societies that reward introverted qualities more.

    “For example, observation indicates that in Asia introverted people are considered to be the ideal in terms of friendship. I myself have had experience with this. I was an un-popular kid at school in the United States, but when I lived in Japan for six weeks when I was seven – I was instantly popular everywhere I went!”

    The following people were introverts:

    Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Rogers.

    I mean, come on. How can you say being Mr. Rogers is a handicap? 😛

  15. Default User Says:

    The point of my graph is that things many people consider normal can stress introverts. That is the introvert may spend more of his life in situations that are uncomfortable for him. Loud parties, large gatherings, loud bars are ways that many Americans socialize. It is a disadvantage to be uncomfortable in those situations.

    As you said America rewards extraverted behavior. It is mostly an extravert country. I live in the USA so that is where I need to fit in. We can talk about how Asian societies tend to celebrate more introverted qualities but that is not where I am (or you currently are) trying to make my life.

    I do believe that the world needs introverts (or at least those with introvert qualities) but it is still better for an individual to be extravert (let others suffer in silence).

    Introversion is less of a handicap for women. Women are not expected (all that grrl power stuff not withstanding) to be leaders, dynamic, or forceful. The quiet and reserved woman is not seen as less feminine. She is not less desirable to men because she is quiet. Indeed demur and sensitive women can bring out romantic and protective instincts in men. A deep, sensitive and somewhat introverted woman like you is desirable to many men. A deep, sensitive and somewhat introverted man is not desirable to very many women (some, it is true, but not many).

    The recent exploits of aoefe and Sofia that I discuss elsewhere on this blog show what happens to the less dynamic man. These undynamic men fail to garner interest from either woman. Both of these women would sing the praises of such men but when actually presented with such characters in real life find them not so appealing.

    Sofia’s man is just the type of introvert that you are celebrating. If he does not get the axe it is only because Sofia can’t bring herself to drop the blade, it is not because she found this introverted man attractive. I am less sure about aoefe’s man but again he fails the dynamism test. He too is awaiting the executioner’s blade.

    The boredom/stress graph was greatly exaggerated. It was designed to show the contrast strongly. I imagine in real-life that most extraverts’ boredom threshold is lower. In the social world of the United States I imagine that extraverts spend more time in their comfort zone than introverts.

    Mr. Rogers is (was?), I am sure, a sweet guy but as I don’t watch children’s TV I don’t know much about them. As for the other three: They certainly made their mark and history has been kind to them but I don’t really care for them.

  16. Default User Says:

    Actually either spelling is OK (extroverts or extravert).

    Most criminals are probably impulsive sensation seekers. Given that the majority of the population is extravert it would be no surprise that the majority of criminals are too.

    I would not be surprised if some of the most notorious criminals (Bundy et al) were introverts.

  17. Hope Says:

    It sounds like you are an unhappy introvert because you are a guy, and guys are expected to be extroverts in America. And I’m a happy introvert because I’m a girl, and girls are not expected to be as extroverted here.

    The truth is I was a very unhappy introvert for a long time, for a lot of different reasons. Being a girl does not make being socially awkward much better. Sure I might have been “desirable” to a few guys, but that didn’t resolve my inner problems.

    Oh and just because I find introverted, sensitive men attractive, does not mean I find every introverted, sensitive man attractive. The girls you mention don’t have to love every man they come across who meet some “list of good guy criteria.”

    Out of the thousands of men I’ve spoken to only a few were ever able to capture my attention in that way. Yes, they tended to be nerdy, introverted and intelligent men, not big into partying or pop culture. But was I supposed to fall in love with every man meeting this description? Don’t be so hard on them for not loving the kind of man they praise.

  18. Default User Says:


    Just to be clear, introvert does not always mean shy or socially inept. While I am certainly introverted, I am not really shy (afraid of social situations) or socially inept. I certainly was those things (shy and socially inept) but have improved. My introversion fed those two things and made overcoming them harder. Indeed had I been extraverted I may never have suffered them.

    Even as a fairly confident (I lack the unreasonable confidence that is so useful) and socially adept person I do not project the aura, edge, presence that a more extraverted person would.

    This is not just important for dating, it is important for everything. As an introvert I have a smaller network of friends and colleagues which matters in finding job and business opportunities. I really fail to see how introversion has helped me in any way.

    I think the female stated preference for introverted guys is like most citizens’ support for jury duty. It is fine in the abstract but when that letter arrives they start looking for excuses. Introverted guys are like jury duty, a good idea for someone else.

  19. Bhetti Says:

    I really fail to see how introversion has helped me in any way.
    It makes you understand life, make use of intelligence, keeps you away from slipping into circles of extreme addictive/harmful behaviour, allows you opportunity for growth, makes you less dependent on others and content with your self in its best. Being introverted is just one dimension and in any team, you need more of that kind of input. The natural extrovert is too often the leader in image (and the scapegoat) overly reliant on charm rather than competence while the introvert is the right hand man quietly in charge.

    The best man is the combination of both, mostly the introvert adapting himself to adopt charismatic & social status behaviours, having established himself in knowledge, intellect, subtlety and self-awareness.

  20. Default User Says:

    I see introversion as a form of the biblical “hiding your light under a bushel.” It is almost like hiding your best self. What good is having great ideas if you cannot bring them to the world?

    I guess I would rather be naturally extraverted and discipline myself to do needed introspection than be naturally introverted and discipline myself towards socializing.

    No matter how good my ideas I need to bring them to, and sway other people. No matter how charming I am it does not matter if she cannot see past my reserved presentation.

    I am not unhappy with who I am. I just feel that in many ways life would have been easier as an extravert. I wonder how many extraverts would feel the opposite (if they considered such an idea).

  21. Rake Says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, but this post is money. You basically nailed my personality with your definition of an introvert. I have spent many, many days in my life quietly reading, and the crowded bar is basically the upper limit of where I’m comfortable. Also, structured social environments such as school or work are where I am often in my social element. While I’ve certainly become more accustomed to loud clubs in the last year, I don’t really enjoy myself there.

  22. David Alexander Says:

    I don’t get the “jealously” aspect.

    It’s the fear of being around people who are smarter or better (or more knowledgeable) at your particular hobby. I can’t see myself hanging around other photographers (including the sociable railway photographers) because their skills and creativity simply dwarf mine to the point of futility and depression.

    Re: Weirdness

    Actually, railfanning can bring out a lot of social misfits, and some of them have their tendencies that make them a bit less than ideal for spending time in public or private. Even with my varying quirks, as one railfan noted, I can come across as normal compared to other railfans.

    It is true that moving out of your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable but it is also very satisfying.

    I think that depends. Yesterday, I took a risk to bring my car to a shop for repair, and I rented a car for the day, and ended up driving far outside of the metropolitan area. That was outside of my comfort zone, and I was downright nervous, but in the end, despite the high bill, it wasn’t too bad. In contrast, I’ve yet to return to a bar even when invited by co-workers or friends despite going to one for my friend’s birthday.

    Any more references to “sub-human” by you on this blog will be replaced (Roissy style) by the words “alpha in training.” I will leave the current use of that phrase alone, but you have been warned.

    I am [edited]an alpha in training[/edited]. I am not your [edited]sub-human[/edited].

  23. Default User Says:

    Understanding that was a great help to me. I somehow felt less weird and less dorky when I understood what was happening. It made it easier to prepare myself for such situations (even if they were still hard work).

  24. Default User Says:

    Not every comfort zone needs to be pushed. Just push where there is something you want on the other side. If bars are not your thing, don’t feel they should be.

    I understand your frustration with hanging around with people who are better. It can really be disheartening. But remember you have to measure your progress against your previous position.

    While there is a lot of “magic” to creativity in photography there is probably a lot of technique. Asking questions about why they made certain choices might get helpful answers.

    In any case it is about the joy you get doing it. Don’t let comparisons with others take the joy of your own accomplishments.

    It may be corny but I like the Desiderata

    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain or bitter,
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.


    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

  25. Hope Says:

    Don’t let comparisons with others take the joy of your own accomplishments.

    Well-said. It reminds me of a line from this:

    “Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

  26. Default User Says:


    Some days you’re the dog and some days you’re the lampost.

    Thanks for the video. I have heard it before but like it.

  27. David Alexander Says:

    I am [edited]an alpha in training[/edited]. I am not your [edited]sub-human[/edited].

    I am [redacted] I refuse to become an alpha. It’s just wrong. [shudder]

    But remember you have to measure your progress against your previous position.

    The problem is that even with some improvement, they’re still better than me, and that drives me up the wall. You end up wondering what they’ll think when they discover that you’re not as smart or skilled as expected, or the embarrassment when discovered.

    Don’t let comparisons with others take the joy of your own accomplishments.

    It’s hard not to. Accomplishments are useless if nobody is around to validate them, and when there are better people around, they tend to take up most of the attention.

  28. Myers Musings: INTP and Me « Default User Says:

    […] only to find that my wild speculation has some basis in science. An example is my description of introversion and extraversion. I was not consciously aware of Hans Eysenck’s theory of cortically arousal, but my […]

  29. ilona Says:

    as an extraverted librarian I HATE (not really) to crush this theory… but were does this idea come from, that extraverts don’t have days off, don’t enjoy doing nothing at all or don’t love reading? Maybe we don’t do it as often as introverts – that’s just logical, because we usually have more social activities. But ALL extraverts I know enjoy a quiet evening at home, reading a book, watching a movie or just lying on the couch after a week of socialising or so.

  30. ilona Says:

    oh and by the way… I don’t like loud clubs. I’m an HSP and I have serious problems with loud noises.

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