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A commonly used term for people who are quiet, reserved, thoughtful, and self-reliant and who tend to prefer solitary work and leisure activities.

Individuals who are quiet, reserved, thoughtful, and self-reliant are often referred to as "introverts." They are likely to prefer solitary work and leisure activities. In comparison with extroverts, who draw most of their energy from social interaction and respond to external stimuli immediately and directly, introverts tend to mull things over before formulating a reaction, and their energy is regenerated by time spent alone.

Carl Jung was the first psychologist to use the terms introversion and extroversion, which literally mean "inward turning" and "outward turning." More recently, researchers in the field of personality, most notably Hans Eysenck, have popularized these terms. Eysenck claims a biological basis for introversion and extroversion, rooted in differences in sensitivity to physical and emotional stimulation. Eysenck claims that introverts are more sensitive to cortical arousal and thus more likely to be overwhelmed by external stimuli while extroverts, who are less sensitive to arousal, are more likely to actually seek out additional stimuli. Eysenck also created a system of personality types combining introversion and extroversion with degrees of emotionality and stability to arrive at four types corresponding to the classical four temperaments first delineated by Hippocrates. These types (together with Eysenck's formulations) are melancholic (emotional and introverted); phlegmatic (stable and introverted); choleric (stable and extroverted); and sanguine (emotional and extroverted).

Introversion is observable even in early childhood. An introverted child is able to entertain herself alone for extended periods of time, while extroverts need company most of the time. When it comes to socializing, introverts are likely to focus their attention on only one or a few best friends rather than a larger social group. Introverts like to "look before they leap," observing situations before they are ready to participate, and thinking things over before they speak. They are independent, introspective thinkers, turning inward to formulate their own ideas about things. They are more likely than extroverts to act differently in public than they do at home because they feel less at ease among strangers. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and dislike interruptions. On an emotional level, they are likely to become absorbed by their own emotions and pay less attention to those of the people around them. They may also be more reluctant than extroverts to talk about their feelings.

The personality traits that characterize introversion overlap at several points with those often seen in gifted people, such as independence of thought, the ability to spend extended periods of time absorbed in solitary pursuits, and heightened sensitivity to social interactions. The association between introversion and giftedness has been reinforced by the findings of Dr. Linda Silverman at Denver University's Gifted Child Development Center, who found that an unusually high percentage of introverted children are gifted.

Although introversion and extroversion are observable, documented personality tendencies, people generally do not conform completely to either description. This fact is reflected, for example, in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which treats introversion and extroversion as two ends of a continuum, with most people falling somewhere in between. Some scores come out very close to either end, while others are virtually at the half-way mark. However, it is possible for Myers-Briggs test results to change over time as people change.

Further Reading

Campbell, Joseph, ed. The Portable [Carl] Jung. New York: Viking, 1971.

Eysenck, Hans J. and Michael Eysenck. Personality and Individual Differences. New York: Plenum Press, 1985.

Shapiro, Kenneth Joel. The Experience of Introversion. Durham, NC: Duke University. Press, 1975.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Ibn Bajjah (Abu-Bakr Muhammad ibn-Yahya ibn-al-Saʼigh, c.1106–38) Biography to Perception: cultural differences