Okay, so after writing 5 Things about Introverts and 5 Things About Extroverts, it has come time for me to talk about MY people: the ambiverts. Sometimes referred to as an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert, ambiverts are the people who don’t really fit either mold. So what’s up with this category? Is it a real thing? If it is real is it a good thing? Let’s take a look!
- Ambiversion has been around for a while Okay, so when I first heard about ambiversion, I thought it was a made up thing. Apparently though Carl Jung actually did write about this category when he originally developed the introvert/extrovert scale, though he didn’t name it. According to the Wall Street Journal, the name came about in the 1940s. And to think, I was just blaming Buzzfeed.
- Most people are probably ambiverts If you think of introversion and extroversion as a spectrum of traits, ambiverts are the ones in the middle. It makes sense that most people would be there, though the exact percentage is a little in question: some say 1/3rd of all people, some say 2/3rds. The exact percentage is probably in question because it depends where you draw the line. If you’re 40-60% extroverted, does that make you an ambivert, or is it 35-65%? Regardless, it’s probably not a small number.
- The Big 5 recognizes them, Myers Briggs not so much One of the reasons ambiversion doesn’t get much press is because Myers Briggs (the 500 lb gorilla in the personality testing room) doesn’t really recognize it. Where the Big 5 Personality Scale is based on a sliding scale and generally recognizes “low” “moderate” and “high” scores, Myers Briggs insists on binary classifications.
- The ability to recognize both sides is probably helpful Not a lot of research has been done in to ambiversion, but the little that has been done suggests good things. When studying salespeople, it was found that ambiverts actually made more money than either introverts or extroverts. The researchers think this is because they can work with both types of people and adapt their style more easily to fit the customer. Obviously there would still be a social intelligence aspect to this, but the ability to vary the approach does seem to have it’s benefits.
- The need for both types of recharging can lead to burnout In my previous posts, I asserted that introverts want people to pay more attention to their strengths, and extroverts want people to pay less attention to their faults. Reading through the things written about ambiverts, I realized that their biggest problem seemed to be paying attention to themselves. If you know you need quiet to recharge, that’s straightforward. If you know you need noise, that’s also straightforward. However, if it kind of depends, you have to make a judgment call…..and you very well could be wrong. A lot.
So there you have it! Research in this area is clearly a little light, but I still think it’s interesting to think about how we classify these things. Also, fun fact I learned after writing this….there apparently is an introverted, ambivert and an extroverted facial type:
The article was a little unclear on how good the correlation between facial structure and actual personality type was, but it did raise some questions about the chicken and egg nature of how others perceive us. If someone looks like an extrovert are they more likely to be treated like one and therefore become one? Or is there some “extrovert gene” that determines both? Since all introversion/extroversion measures are self reported it’s hard to know, but it’s an interesting thought. Now I’m gonna go look in the mirror and figure out which type of face I have.
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.
I am fascinated by personality testing. Myers-Briggs, Big 5, Enneagram, Buzzfeed quiz, yes please. I’ll take them. There’s something about assigning humanity to little boxes that just, I don’t know, appeals to me. Maybe that’s the ENTJ in me, or my moderate conscientiousness, or the fact that according to this quiz I’m a sea monster. Given this, I realized it was high time I did a bit of a research roundup on some of the better known facets of personality testing. This week I’m taking on introverts, and if all goes well next week will be extroverts.
A few things up front: first, on introvert/extrovert scales, I score right in the middle. This makes me one of the dreaded “ambiverts” who apparently can’t make up their minds. Second, while the definition of introvert is sometimes a little lacking (see point #1 below) it’s generally defined as someone who gets their energy from being alone. With the rise of the internet, introverts started kind of having a moment, and there’s been a rash of books/memes/Buzzfeed lists about how unappreciated they all are. So what’s going on here, and what does the research say?
- Introversion doesn’t always have a definition One of the first rather odd things I learned about introverts is that the most commonly used academic definition is….”not an extrovert”. For example, in the Big Five Personality scale “introversion” is not technically a trait but “low extraversion” is. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can mean that we are lumping different things under “introvert” that may not necessarily be similar to one another. As introversion has become more trendy, I have seen more and more people lump normal social or physical limitations under “introversion”. For example, a rather extroverted friend of mine recently announced she was pretty sure she was actually an introvert. When asked why she thought this, she mentioned that she had been out 3 different nights the week before and that by the weekend she had been too exhausted to go to another party. When I inquired if maybe this was simply lack of sleep, she responded “but extroverts get their energy from people, so I should have been fine!”. No. People get their energy from rest. Almost no one can substitute human interaction for sleep too often and feel good about it. Wanting to sleep isn’t “introverted” merely because you’re not socializing while you do it.
- There may be 4 types of introversion When psychologists started actually looking in to introversion, they developed a theory that there may actually be 4 types of behavior we’ve been lumping under “introvert”: social introversion, thinking introversion, anxious introversion and restrained introversion. This was a helpful list for me, as I am moderately socially introverted (I prefer small groups), highly introverted in my thinking, but I have very little social anxiety and I’m not very restrained. Thus it makes sense that I strongly resonate with some descriptions of introversion and not others. The social anxiety piece can also be important to recognize as a separate category. I have a few friends who thought they were introverted when they were in high school only to discover that they really just didn’t like their classmates. While most introverts fight the perception that introversion = shyness, it’s probably good to note that most shy or socially anxious people will end up self selecting as introverts.
- Stimulation matters The four categories mentioned in #2 are still in the research phase, but there are other ways of looking at introversion as well. Some of the very first literature on introversion (and extroversion) actually defined it as an aversion to (or need for) extra environmental stimulation. I like this framing a bit better than the social framing, because it includes things like loud noises or fast music or why coffee only helps extroverts (basically it increases your sensitivity to stimulation, which is the last thing most introverts need when they’re trying to get things done). This explains why I’ve occasionally had introverted coworkers complain that I talked to much, even when I was studiously avoiding talking to them, or why an introvert I mentioned this to always has to tell her (extrovert) husband to shut the TV off. Social situations may not be taxing because of social issues, but rather just the stimulation of hearing so many people talk.
- This can lead to some judginess With all the recent attention on introverts in the workplace, it’s interesting to note that there’s some evidence that introverts actually judge extroverts more harshly than the other way around. In some studies done by Florida State University, they found introverted MBA students were more likely to give low marks to extroverted students, recommended they get lower bonuses, and declined to recommend them for promotions. This was true even when they manufactured the scenarios and controlled for performance. The extroverts in the study awarded bonuses/promotions/high marks much more in line with actual performance on the tasks and did not penalize introverts. The researchers hypothesize that due to the stimulation issue (#3) introverts may just have a harder time working with extroverts regardless of their competence. I also have to wonder if there’s a bit of the Tim Tebow Fallacy going on here….with all the press about how extroverts do better in business, many introverts (especially in MBA programs, as these research subjects were) could feel that by marking extroverts down they are balancing the scales a bit. We don’t know how this works in the general population, but it is worth keeping in mind.
- Introverts may (wrongly) think they’re the minority There’s a bit of confusion over what percentage of the population is introverted….which is not particularly surprising when you consider the weird definitions we considered in #1-#3. At this point though, most estimates put it at about 50% (unless you consider “ambivert” a category). So why do introverts tend to feel outnumbered? Well, it’s a statistical quirk called the majority illusion. Basically, because extroverts are more likely to have lots of friends, people are more likely to be friends with lots of extroverts. This artificially skews the perception of the numbers, and leaves people with the impression that they know more extroverts because there are more extroverts. So introverts, take heart. There are more of you out there than you think.
Come back next week and we’ll take a look at extroverts!