Poles of the Temperament Spectrum: A Bird’s-Eye View of Extroversion and Introversion
One of the basic psychological distinctions we can make regarding the personality of people is that of Extroversion or Introversion. Extroverts are typically considered as people who are stimulated by their external environment (the name gives it away). This external environment could be other people or surrounding sights, sounds etc. Introverts however, are more stimulated by their internal environment, such as their internal thoughts, desires etc.
This has important implications for the individual. Extroverts, who crave social stimulation, tend to be more decisive, outgoing, charismatic and generally good leaders. Whereas Introverts are more likely to become careful and reflective types. They are more easily overstimulated by surroundings (e.g. large crowds).
Some reports have claimed that extroverts, due to their carefree and lively dispositions, are generally happier than their introvert counterparts. Introverts, however, due to their careful and reflective natures, tend to become better thinkers. Indeed many famous scientists and philosophers were introverts, such as Albert Einstein and Plato.
It seems that this Yin-Yang of personality traits has an underlying genetic basis. A longitudinal study launched in 1989 by Prof Kagan(1), evaluated behaviors of 500 four month old infants, and predicted where they would fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. The 4-month old infants were exposed to a carefully chosen set of new experiences. These experiences included: listening to tape recordings, hearing balloons popped and seeing colorful mobiles dance in front of them.
The results were as follows:
- 20% of the babies cried heavily. Indicating that they were over stimulated by their surroundings. These babies were labeled “High Reactive”.
- 40% stayed quiet and placid. Indicating that they were not over stimulated by their surroundings. These were the “Low Reactive” group.
- 40% had a response in between these 2 extremes
The same kids were again exposed to novel situations at ages 4, 7 and 11. Such situations included: playing with a new kid or being interviewed by an unfamiliar adult. As expected, the “High Reactive” children were more reserved and inhibited in such situations, when compared with “Low Reactive” children. As predicted by Prof. Kagan, the “High Reactive” children went on to become classically serious, careful introverts. Whereas the “Low Reactive” children developed into relaxed and carefree extroverts.
Psychologists often refer to the inborn character traits we inherit as “Temperament.” “Personality” is the complex result we get after we account for the influence of cultures and personal experiences into who we are. We’re all born with unique talents and affinities. It may well be that how extroverted/ introverted we are is determined by one of these inherited temperaments. One which may very well go on to shape the kind of lives we lead and the kind of people we become.
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