Last week I gave a run down of all the interesting stuff I found out about introverts, so naturally this week is going to be about extroverts. Since extroverts are the opposite of introverts, much of what I said last week still applies (or applies in reverse): extroverts tend to need more stimulation from their environment. While this is often phrased as “they get their energy from people”, that’s not entirely true. Being extroverted does not mean social interaction trumps sleep, food, water, or that you can’t get sick of people (all things I’ve heard people claim). So what is true of extroverts? Let’s take a look:
- I’ve been spelling “extrovert” wrong, and apparently Jung would be annoyed Before I wrote my post last week, I tried to look up “extrovert vs extravert” to see which was the correct spelling. It turns out that the debate about this runs a little deeper than I thought. While my spellchecker insists that “extrovert” is correct, Carl Jung (the guy who invented the whole concept) felt strongly it should be “extravert”. This was based on the Latin root and the actual definition he was going for. I’m going to stick with the one that makes my spell checker calmer, but it’s worth noting that we probably should be using “extravert”.
- There may be two types of extroverts Just like introversion, it turns out extroversion may not be a monolith. The two types (agenetic and affiliative) are described here, but basically they boil down to “social leadership” and “social warmth”. The first one has a lot to do with going after rewards, and the second one just wants to hang out with everyone. They are correlated, but some people have more of one than the other. Think the person who wants to be in charge of every group vs the person who just wants to be in every group.
- The success of extroverts is kinda bimodal Despite all the rumors that being an extrovert is some sort of cultural ideal, it turns out it’s actually kind of a mixed bag. For example, if you go to Urban Dictionary and type in “introvert” and you get a thoughtful description of what an introvert is. Try the same with the word “extrovert” and you get “asshole who doesn’t know how to shut their goddamn mouth“. I’m serious. In fact 5 out of the top 7 definitions of extroverts slam extroverts. Interestingly, 5 of the top 7 definitions of introverts ALSO slam extroverts. If the chronic complaint from introverts is that their strengths go unnoticed, then the equivalent extrovert complaint would probably be that their faults get a little too noticed. This makes a lot of sense….having attention on you is great if you’re good at something, but probably worse for you if you’re bad at something. Interestingly, this plays out with things like leadership. Leaders are more likely to be extroverts, but if you control for social skills there actually isn’t an extrovert advantage.
- Some extrovert “benefits” are just circular reasoning Okay, so here’s the extrovert bias introverts so often complain about. Many of the supposed benefits of being an extrovert come not from actual benefits, but by using some of the definition for extroversion as a definition for other things. For example, for years it was noted that extroverts were happier than introverts. Then it was finally noted that many of the tests that measured happiness did so by asking things like “do you have a lot of friends?”, which is also a question used to determine if you’re an extrovert or not. This works in the negative direction too. When you hear criticisms of extroverts, it’s often things like “they hog the spotlight” (random example here). However “do you like to be the center of attention” is a pretty frequently used question on personality tests, and it makes complete sense that people who say “yes” to that would end up spending more time as the center of attention than those that say “no”. I think this is important because sometimes I hear this get referenced as though personality tests were objective neurological tests, but they are really all rating and self assessment. The same answers that landed you in one category or another tend to persist even when you’re not taking the test.
- Test taking is often biased against them So if personality and psychological tests favor extroverts, then extroverts must really love test taking, right? Well, not all tests. It turns out that our most common testing environments (ie quiet rooms with no ambient noise) actually are biased against extroverts. Because of their need for stimulation, some research has found that extroverts actually perform better on tests when there is noise present. Unsurprisingly, introverts are the opposite, and ambiverts are in the middle: In school settings this is an obvious disadvantage, but in real life may explain why some professions end up extrovert dominated. In many settings, you actually will have to make your toughest calls while there is a lot of noise and chaos around you. By the way, there’s a rather persistent rumor (normally stated in the form of “introverts think more deeply”) that extroverts are less intelligent than introverts. Actually the most recent research says extroverts have a tiny advantage here, but the correlation on that is pretty shaky, and depends heavily on exactly how intelligence is measured. There’s some suggestion that the high IQ (>160) may lean introvert, but that’s a really small slice of the population and wouldn’t be enough to move the dial.
So there you have it! Next week I may try to take on ambiverts, who can’t make up their mind about anything.