By Molly Mann, DIvineCaroline
To help me come to terms with my shyness as a child, my mother explained that some people, including me, are crocuses who bloom in the shade and keep their petals closed, while others are sunflowers who draw energy from their surroundings. In psychological terms, these two kinds of people are known as introverts and extroverts. Most of us exhibit some qualities of both, but knowing our primary orientation may help us play up our strengths, cope with our weaknesses, and keep our personality types balanced.
Are You an Innie or an Outie?
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on Carl Jung’s theories about psychological type preferences, identifies introversion and extroversion, among other qualities. In general, introverts find socializing tiring, while extroverts feel energized by interacting with others. That doesn’t mean that introverts are necessarily shy or misanthropic–in fact, they may be very outgoing–but they need time alone to recharge.
Brain-activity research has shown physiological differences between introverts and extroverts to add to the psychological ones. In a 1999 study published in Psychology Today, Debra Johnson, PhD, a research scientist at the University of Iowa, and John S. Wiebe, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas, used positron emission tomography (PET) to measure cerebral blood flow, an indicator of brain activity, in subjects a personality test had identified as being either shy or outgoing. While Johnson and Wiebe administered the PET scans, they asked the subjects to think freely, and the results showed clear differences in the brain activities of the two personality types. The introverts experienced increased blood flow in the frontal lobes, the anterior thalamus, and other structures associated with memory, planning, and problem solving, whereas the extroverts had more activity in the posterior thalamus and posterior insula, which we use to interpret sensory data.
Johnson and Wiebe consider their study added proof of the distinction between introverts and extroverts–inward versus outward focus. And, Wiebe says, “everything psychological in nature is, at some level, physiological in nature.”
But just because our personality types may be biological in origin doesn’t mean we’re destined to live as wallflowers or party animals forever. It just means that we have a particular orientation, a certain lens through which we view the world. By being mindful of that lens, we can develop some strategies to keep ourselves in balance between the two personality poles.