In Defense of Introversion: An Argument For The Other Half

Lena M. Faitz


            In 1921, psychiatrist and theorist Carl Gustav Jung introduced two terms which he believed to be salient tenets of personality - introvert and extravert. He stated that "every individual possesses both the mechanism of introversion and that of extraversion...external circumstances and inner dispositions frequently favour one mechanism and impede or restrict the other" (Eysenck, 1970, pg. 11). This proposition was radical at the time, as most of the professional community was processing the work of Dr. Sigmund Freud, another famous psychoanalyst, who focused on childhood development and psychosis, as opposed to the variations between people. Jung's theory served as a foundation for the rapid growth of personality study, which was picked up by numerous and well-known psychologists and laypeople; among them are Myers and Briggs, Keirsey, and Eysenck. Myers and Briggs set out to operationalize the preference between extraversion and introversion, thus yielding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), as did Keirsey (Myers & Myers, 1995; Keirsey, 1998).

            With their introduction, the words "introvert" and "extravert" have become a part of daily vocabulary used to describe people and their temperaments. More often than not, people place emphasis on the extravert and praise him for possessing a desirable personality characteristic. He may readily make friends, receive a raise at work without much effort, and be the center of attention in groups. In American popular culture, an outgoing person is perceived to be successful and happy, which has created a desire within others to emulate these qualities. With all of this interest in "sociable" people, it is easy to see why introverts have been forgotten and neglected. In fact, being an introvert in today's society is considered to be "bad" and "undesirable"; however, the popular conceptions of the term are not accurate in their descriptions and are therefore, in need of some demystifying. The original concept of the word was not negative, but one psychologist played a pivotal role in changing its meaning.

            German-born and an English psychologist, Eysenck is well-known for his controversial work regarding intelligence, personality, mental illness, and temperament. He primarily based his theories upon biology and physiology and famously drew inspiration from Ancient Greek medicine when attempting to develop his own hypotheses (Boeree, 2006). Inborn dispositions, or temperament, were once thought to be associated with fluids within the body. As a result, the concept of the following types were born: sanguine (cheerful and optimistic), choleric (aggressive and hot-tempered), phlegmatic (laziness), and melancholic (depressed and pessimistic) (Boeree, 2006). However, it was not his dabbling with biology in order to explain personality traits that changed the meaning of "introvert." Eysenck's research has caused numerous problems with the modern conception of introversion because the term has been assigned negative qualities, neglected, and  unfairly compared with neuroticism and psychoticism; thus, his actions have created an unnecessary negative social stigma (Eysenck, 1970). As many continue to cite his research within the field of psychology, there has been a formation of a habit which results in "cherry-picking" terminology without understanding the original context, which has created more problems than originally anticipated.

            At this point in time, it is necessary to explain the claim that Eysenck's work is the main source of the negative social stigma against introverts. Moreover, the widespread misinterpretation of his studies is one the largest reasons the definition of introversion has become inaccurate. One of the explanations for why people misunderstand his research is the vocabulary differences between the early twentieth century and modern times; some words simply do not mean the same thing anymore. Often, as it will be demonstrated, the definitions have become more expanded and meaningful than their original meanings. However, it is necessary first to describe his work with introversion and extraversion so that this point may become more clear.

            Within Eysenck's work, he has a tendency to focus more on the extravert and assign significantly more negative traits to introverts. However, as many people may ask, why does he matter? While most early theorists have been phased out easily with the advancements in personality psychology and they are regarded as "stepping stones," so to speak. Unfortunately, such is not the case with Eysenck; he is the number three most-cited psychological writer in the twentieth century, thus making it quite difficult to ignore his influence (Haggbloom, Warnick, Warnick, Jones, Yarbrough, Russell, Borecky, McGahhey, Powell III, Beavers, & Monte, 2002, p. 142). As a result, he is incredibly significant, particularly when attempting to study introversion-extraversion and personality theory; the downside comes when laypeople and even some psychologists refer to him in their projects and fail to note the vocabulary differences. The following paragraph will list some of the most salient terms from Eysenck's 1970 book, The Structure of Human Personality, and will provide an explanation as to how individuals today have the wrong impression about introverts.

            Eysenck draws inspiration from psychologists before him who attempted to map out the locations of traits within four quadrants; unfortunately, it does not seem as though these theorists reinforced their ideas with actual, observed data or case studies. For instance, one of the most prominent references is a diagram depicting Vernon's (1953) relations between main personality dimensions, which appears early in the book (p. 19). On the extraverted/dependable (assumed as positive) side of the scale, the following traits are listed: "stable, mature, integrated, good character, unemotional, and dominant." The traits "persistent, cautious, schizothyme, dysthymic, melancholic, and desurgent" all appear on the introverted/ dependable side of the continuum. Eysenck supports these theorists' viewpoints by asserting that it is possible to determine whether an individual is introvert or extraverted based upon a list of characteristics. When assessing these two inventories of traits, it seems clear that introverts received more negative descriptions than extraverts, and such an observation is true. To make matters worse, the negative, introverted side of the continuum contains words such as: "submissive, emotional, poor character, neurotic, and unstable" (Eysenck, 1970, p. 19).

            Looking at the previously-mentioned terms used to describe introverts, it is no wonder many people get the wrong idea about nearly half of the population: They were described using nothing but cynical words. Perhaps the least offensive terms may be "persistent" or "cautious," but they do not begin to compare to the extravert's list: "stable, mature, integrated, good character..." (Eysenck, 1970, p. 19). Eysenck seems to be the most responsible for weaving a tapestry of falsehoods regarding the introvert. Again, people may say, "So what if he used more negative terms? How does that affect how an introvert is viewed?" The explanation to such questions is easily demonstrated by simply providing a list of comparative definitions. According to, "schizothyme" is related to being schizoid (introverted) and is encompassed within elements of schizophrenia (a severe mental disorder) but not to the same depth of disturbance. "Dysthymic" is defined as "depression; despondency or a tendency to be despondent... including anxiety... and compulsive behavior." The word "desurgent" appears to be related to "introspection [sic], restrained, brooding, and solemn" (Gholson, Shadish, Jr., Neimeyer, & Houts, 1989, p. 186).  Fifty years ago, there would have been no need for a paper that defined such language, but it is now essential because the meanings have drastically changed, but the literature has not.

            Perhaps some may remain unconvinced that Eysenck played a major role in creating the social stigma that lies upon the shoulders of every introvert. There are two more terms, "neuroticism" and "psychoticism," frequently cited from his research that are often used to make arguments such as, "extraverts are happier and more desirable" or "introverts tend to be depressed." The modern definition of both these words are different from Eysenck's conceptualizations, thus making them very dangerous to assign to introverts without understanding what they are actually saying. He defines "neuroticism" as the likelihood that an individual will break down under stress, in addition to the possession of wide emotional variability; it is a measure of stability (Funder, 1997). However, when one looks up the word in 2012, the meaning is much different: " a functional disorder in which feelings of anxiety, obsessional thoughts, compulsion acts, and physical complaints without objective evidence of disease...typified by excessive anxiety or indecision and a degree of social or interpersonal maladjustment" ( If one simply compares the two meanings, it is easy to see the amount of damage that could be dealt by picking up Eysenck's book and not understanding the original concept of the words.

            One may consider another example: psychoticism. Surely that word has not changed in the past fifty years, right? Wrong. Eysenck finds that psychotics have a certain sense of "recklessness, [and] a disregard for common sense or conventions, and a degree of inappropriate emotional expression" (Boeree, 2006). He also asserts that an individual may exhibit these kinds of characteristics, which may lead him to be more susceptible to becoming psychotic if subjected to certain stressors or environments (Boeree, 2006). These descriptions help to flesh out Eysenck's concept of what it means to be clinically psychotic, yet it is not quite how he used it; in fact, such a definition is more akin to the modern sense of the word. To him, it means that a person is "aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, and creative" (Funder, 1997, p. 161). Compared to the 2012 definition, these meanings could not be any more dissimilar. Psychosis is defined as "a mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, that indicate impaired contact with reality... any severe form of mental disorder, as schizophrenia or paranoia" (

            By now, the problems with using modern definitions in correspondence with slightly-dated literature should be more than apparent. To the casual reader, hurried researcher, or beginning psychology student, the seriousness of this error may not occur. Most people tend to not think about the evolution of language in context with their research; they simply take for granted that nearly all information is at their fingertips and may not stop to consider original definitions. Of course, when one reads Eysenck's work, it is difficult to ignore the negative undertones of his works, nor is it easy to find a single positive word about the introvert. If the language confusion has not created enough problems for understanding what introversion is, his complete lack of attempts to dispel these stereotypes only made the situation worse. As the rule in statistics goes, if there is a failure to reject a hypothesis, what is to say that it is not true? The same logic applies to introverts: If nobody has proven Eysenck's lists of characteristics wrong, then surely they must be correct. Such an assumption is not only wildly unfair, but it is also inaccurate; there are many extraverts who may be considered to be anxious, aggressive, depressive, melancholic, or any other number of terms usually associated with introverts. People tend to forget that all of these characteristics are not to be thought of as "black and white," but rather in shades of gray and varying between each individual. Now that some of the most commonly-held beliefs about the introvert have been scrutinized and properly defined, it is time to return to basics; it is time to truly analyze what it means to be an introvert.

            Developing a clear definition of the word "introvert" is the first step to understanding the complexity of this personality type and realizing just how inaccurate their representation is in modern culture. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, introversion is defined as "a shy, reticent person; psych: a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things." This explanation is similar to Jung's original proposal and is a good foundation for beginning to understand the mind of an introvert. According to Jung, an introvert is mainly concerned with an inner world, as well as concepts and ideas, as opposed to extraverts, who are more involved with the stimuli of the outer world and environment (Cain, 2012). While this working definition is at the core of his concepts, Jung offers many additional thoughts about the "quiet" individual. Often, he compares the characteristics of each side of the spectrum that a person can flow between; because he uses polarization to illustrate his points, it is impossible to talk about introversion and not mention extraversion.

            Another important step in understanding introversion is to determine what it is not; this can easily be done by looking at the characteristics of an extravert. Jung describes the extravert as an individual who typically "values the outer world, both in its material and immaterial aspects...seeks for social approval and tends to conform to the [customs] of [his or her] society" (Eysenck, 1970, pg. 24). They tend to be sociable and trusting and, therefore, may easily make friends. Also, extraverts can be open to new experiences and changes within their lives, due to their activities being mostly external and physical. They tend not to worry about inhibitions and can be carefree at times, which may result in insensitivity, unpleasantness, and emotional volatility, in addition to superficial, materialistic, and hard-headed tendencies. In addition, most extraverted thinkers tend to agree with the following statements: "I always keep my feet solidly on the ground"; "When I think a problem through, I keep very close to the facts that I have seen and observed"; "I can deal much better with actual situations than with ideas" and "I only work for tangible and clearly defined results" (Smith, 1961, pg. 159). While this definition is a minimal list of characteristics, Jung's theory suggests that extraverts may be more predisposed to problems such as sleep deprivation, emotional sensitivity and fluctuation, and melodrama when under excess amounts of stress (formerly known as hysteria, which is no longer a single diagnosis; Eysenck, 1970; Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.) This conceptualization of an extravert serves as a good point of comparison to the description of an introvert; often, they can be polar opposites of their more open, gregarious counterparts.

            As previously mentioned, Jung offered many concepts and thoughts about what it means to be an introvert, in addition to his broad definition of where someone may stand on the spectrum. His proposal that the introverted tend to live in an inner world is more easily explained by illustrating how they think: They are much more drawn to introspection and feelings about events observed and experienced. Another key indication of a "quiet" person is how he or she may feel after social interaction; often, a person who is considered as highly introverted feels drained by excessive socializing and feels the need to re-energize themselves by being alone for a bit (Cain, 2012). If an individual becomes over-stressed, he or she may slip into a state of high sensitivity, exhaustion, and tiredness. It is a common misconception, which Jung adamantly opposes, that introversion is synonymous with neuroticism (instability and unhealthy fixation). He states that "it is a mistake to believe that introversion is more or less the same as neurosis...the two have not the slightest connection with each other" (Eysenck, 1970). However, that does not mean that they are incapable of having meaningful relationships with others. When one thinks about the sliding scale of introversion-extraversion, it is crucial to keep in mind that most people can and do constantly fluctuate between being "quiet" and "open," depending largely on the present situation. Jung's position best describes how most psychologists feel about the scale of personality: "...A rhythmic alternation of these two psychic functions characterizes the normal course of life..." (Eysenck, 1970).

            Since the early 1900s when Jung first introduced the concept of introversion and extraversion, many people have been captivated by his thoughts regarding personality. One family, Myers-Briggs, was especially enthralled and the mother-daughter team studied Jungian theory and expanded upon his original ideas (Myers & Myers, 1995). As a result of their work, they have created a modern conceptualization of introverts; although their data is not as professionally accepted as the MMPI-2, some of their observations may bear some meaning. According to Myers and Myers (1995), many introverted types are as follows:

 ...Forethinkers. [They] cannot live life until they understand it. [Their] attitude [is] reserved and questioning. They expect the waters to prove deep, and pause to take soundings in the new and untried. [Their] minds [are] inwardly directed, frequently unaware of the objective environment...being engrossed by inner events. Their real world... is the inner world of ideas and understanding...[They are] the people of ideas and abstract invention. [Their] always governed by subjective values...[They are] subtle and impenetrable, often taciturn and shy...intense and passionate, [and] they bottle up their emotions and guard them carefully. [Their] typical weakness lies in a tendency  toward impracticality...(p. 56)

Again, as any good researcher may realize, one source of data is not enough to determine a set of characteristics for an entire group of people. However, it must be emphasized that Myers-Briggs were some of the first to attempt to operationalize and standardize how Jung thought about personality.

            Perhaps now it is easier to understand what it means to be an introvert and, more importantly, that it is not a trait that needs to be resented. In fact, it should be embraced and approached in a positive manner; after all, many influential figures have been introverts. It may seem comforting for an introvert to know that she is among the company of Jung, Einstein, Lincoln, and hundreds of others (Myers, 1997, p. 56). As reluctant as they may be, they must accept that it is time for them be defended, which may require a bit of extra attention. More important than allowing themselves to be scrutinized is hearing the news that introverts are not truly at a disadvantage. Often, negative stigmas not only reach others, but it also delves deeply into the souls of those discussed; how could an introvert not hear what is being said (perhaps not-so-quietly) behind his back? Humans are fluid in their behavior, depending on the situation at hand. As a result, it is entirely possible and not impractical for an introvert to be a leader, just as it would be silly to assume that extraverts do not enjoy the occasional walk alone (Cain, 2012). No matter where an individual may fall on the continuum, s/he must always remember that there is someone in the world who does not believe everything at face value and that there is someone who is calling for a re-defining of two of society's main categories: introvert and extravert.



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