You might have heard people referring to you as an ‘outgoing’ and extroverted person. Or, some people might prefer calling you a ‘wallflower’ to describe your less-than-outgoing nature. Unfortunately, beyond these name-calls is the implication of these personality types on your everyday life, including work and relationships.
If you are actively looking for a job, you might also want to know why recruiters and hiring managers use assessment tools to classify you in either personality type. So, what are introversion and extroversion?
How can you say a person is introverted and not extroverted, and vice versa? Lastly, what implications do these personality styles have on employers and HR professionals when deciding whether to give you a job offer or not? We will shed light on these questions here. Let us begin.
Defining what introverted and extroverted are
Carl Jung coined the term ‘introversion’ to describe a person’s preferences for subjective psychic contents. The definition might be too technical for some people. Simply put, this personality style focuses on one’s psychic energies turned inwards or toward the self.
On the other hand, extroversion or any extroverted synonym refers to a person’s preference for objects or external things and occurrences. Carl Jung said that extroverts direct their psychic energies outwards. You might want to look at an extrovert as someone who loves anything and everything outside the self.
Let us better understand these concepts by citing a few examples.
Introverts would rather listen to their favorite music in the confines of their bedroom than share it with others at a party place. They prefer to think deeply about things, and appreciate the finer things in life that most of us take for granted. Introverts stay on the sidelines as spectators instead of being in the game. They use peace and quiet times to recharge their psychic or mental energies.
Extroverts, or whatever extroverted synonym people use, love engaging with others. They find pleasure in the interactions and relationships they forge and build. Extroverts love the company of others, relish being the focus of everyone’s attention and feel enamored talking about different things. Extroverted people fuel their mental energies by revving up social stimuli.
The Either-Or Myth of Introversion and Extroversion
Many people make the unnecessary mistake of looking at introversion and extroversion as an either-or phenomenon. They believe that a person is either introverted or extroverted (or other extroverted synonym). Unfortunately, we have employers and HR professionals to blame for this misperception.
Industry experts say nearly nine out of ten (89%) of Fortune 100 and four out of five Fortune 500 companies use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to categorize candidates into one of 16 personality types. This personality assessment tool has been around for decades. It has become one of the cornerstones of job applicant screening, enabling hiring managers to decide whether a candidate is a perfect fit for the job or not.
The MBTI test consists of a self-report questionnaire where people choose which between two sentences best describes them. It assesses a person’s predisposition to one of two dichotic personality styles across four areas: introversion (I) vs. extroversion (E), intuitive (N) vs. sensing (S), thinking (T) vs. feeling (F), and perceiving (P) vs. judging (J).
Psychologists classify people taking the MBTI test into one of 16 four-letter combinations. For example, one might have an INFJ personality, combining introversion, intuitive, feeling, and judging attributes. Experts say this person (INFJ) is an advocate who approaches life with imagination and deep thoughtfulness. Their driving forces are personal values, ethical humanism, and inner vision. In other words, they have strong principles and are idealistic.
Unfortunately, one cannot dichotomize a personality. It would be nonsensical to say that the presence of one attribute translates to the absence of the other. Personality does not exist as an either-or phenomenon. It slides on a continuum. Carl Jung said so himself when he postulated the preferences of people in spending their psychic energies – whether to turn them inwards or outwards.
The point here is the term ‘preference.’ The Association for Psychological Sciences says that preferences change when alternatives present new properties or attributes, becoming more salient or less important.
The Cult of Personality Testing author, Annie Murphy Paul, says that three out of four MBTI test re-takers show a personality style classification divergent from their initial test results. For example, the first test might indicate the person has an INFP personality type. However, a second test a few weeks later might reveal the same person already has an ESTJ style.
A CNN Fortune Magazine article also said that retaking the MBTI test after five weeks can produce a 50% chance of falling into a personality style category different from the first test. Studies also showed that the MBTI does not accurately predict managerial effectiveness.
Personality psychologists Paul Costa and Robert McCrae sum up the MBTI test as ineffective in providing people with comprehensive information about the four personality categories the tool samples. It is crucial to understand that the MBTI test looks at personality as an all-or-nothing thing, which it is not.
Introversion and Extroversion in a Continuum
Although the MBTI had serious issues in dichotomizing personality, experts agree that personality is a crucial element in predicting job-related outcomes, including leadership effectiveness and job performance.
Scientists have been refining the MBTI by revisiting Jung’s original concept about introverted and extroverted individuals. Many companies today are ditching the MBTI tool for something more reflective of the nature of human personality. If MBTI had its heyday in the 20th-century, it is high time for the Five-Factor Model (FFM) to take center stage.
Interestingly, MBTI preceded FFM by only several years. It took Myers 20 years to develop the tool until its first publication in 1962, putting the initial creation in the early 1940s. On the other hand, D. M. Fiske developed the FFM in 1949 and was expanded upon by Norma, Smith, Goldberg, McCrae, and Costa.
The Five-Factor Model describes five personality domains that people have. These include extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Unlike the MBTI, the FFM assumes that people move along a continuum in each domain. Hence, one can be extroverted at times and introverted at others. The person can also be stressed and anxious (high neuroticism) at certain times of the day and happy and relaxed (low neuroticism) at other times.
Studies show that a growing number of psychologists and researchers are now advocating for FFM in hiring, recruitment, and selection. Barrick and Mount conducted a meta-analysis of FFM’s impact on job performance in 1991. The researchers found that conscientiousness is an excellent predictor of job performance.
The research by Judge, Heller, and Mount in 2002 also described a positive relationship between job satisfaction and the personality domains extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. It also negatively correlated neuroticism with satisfaction at work.
Numerous studies point to one inescapable fact: the Five-Factor Model has more predictive value than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
As far as introverts/extroverts go, the FFM does not put them in a single box. Instead, the model recognizes a person’s capacity to choose whether to engage with the external environment or not. Although extroverts are expressive and love the attention they get, there will always be moments when they relish alone-time.
Extroverted and Introverted: The Science of Introverts and Extroverts
Whether you believe in the MBTI or the FFM, one thing is certain. You are asking if there is a difference in the minds of introverts and extroverts (or whatever extroverted synonym you might want to use)? What does the scientific community say? After all, Jung says introversion and extroversion describe how people spend their mental energies.
Surprisingly, science shows a significant difference in brain structures between introverts and extroverts.
- Differences in Neurotransmitter Levels
The first principal difference between an introvert and an extrovert’s brain is their diverging levels of dopamine and acetylcholine neurotransmitters.
Dopamine is crucial in facilitating learning, motivation, mood, sleep, attention, pleasure, pain processing, and other physiological functions. People feel euphoric and happy every time the brain releases dopamine. On the other hand, acetylcholine is beneficial in memory formation, consolidation, and retrieval, allowing people to enhance long-term and working memory.
Interestingly, extroverts are more receptive to dopamine effects than do introverts. The observation helps explain their tendency to seek more opportunities offering external rewards. They crave novelty, take risks, and act quickly.
On the other hand, introverts’ brains are more dependent on acetylcholine, allowing them to be content, alert, and relaxed. They can focus on a single task for longer periods than extroverts do.
- Differences in Neural Pathways
This difference relates to the predominant neurotransmitter governing the brains of introverts and extroverts. The dopaminergic neural pathway is shorter than the cholinergic pathway. It helps explain the observation that extroverts (or whatever extroverted synonym people use) process sensory information faster than do introverts.
The cholinergic pathway moves across several brain structures, requiring sensory data to make a brief ‘stopover’ at these areas before final processing. It gives credence to the general observation that introverts overthink things.
- Differences in the Gray Matter
The gray matter is that part of the human brain that receives, processes, and transmits information to the white matter and the spinal cord. A Harvard University study revealed that introverts have thicker and larger gray matter than extroverts, especially in the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex’s function is regulating personality, social behavior, and decision-making. This observation helps explain why introverts spend more time deciding because they have to process every bit of information entering their gray matter. On the other hand, extroverts prefer living in the moment, taking risks without considering the potential consequences.
- Differences in Brain Blood Flow
Scientists also show divergence in cerebral blood flow between extroverts and introverts. Researchers measured blood flow to the various brain regions using positron emission tomography (PET). The study revealed that introverts have a significantly higher blood flow to the anterior thalamus, frontal lobes, and other planning and problem-solving-related brain structures.
On the other hand, extroverts displayed more blood flow to the posterior insula and posterior thalamus. These brain regions are crucial in interpreting sensory information, explaining the tendency of gregarious people to crave sensory stimulation from the outside environment.
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Qualities of an Introvert and an Extrovert
We now know that introversion and extroversion are not an all-or-none thing. We also learned that there are instances when we show signs of extroversion and introversion at different times of the day or in various circumstances. Science also weighed in on the issue, saying that introverts respond more to acetylcholine, take a longer neural pathway to process information, have a larger gray matter in the brain, and have more substantial blood flow to problem-solving brain regions.
So, how can you best describe an introvert or an extrovert? Here are some of the qualities that define people with these attributes.
Extroverts relish relationships, cooperation, teamwork, and collaboration. Working in a team or group makes them happy, allowing them to showcase their innate talents and contribute to team goals. This observation is crucial for recruiters and HR professionals because they can pick extroverts for job positions that require dynamic people interaction and relationship-building.
People with a high level of extroversion are not afraid of novel things, no matter how scary or uncertain they might be. You can look at it as risk-taking behavior, sometimes bordering on impulsiveness. Although it has negative connotations, risk-taking and the readiness to try new things can be valuable in an organization. After all, openness to new ideas is one of the traits modern businesses look for in job candidates.
Extroverts have an extensive social network. This attribute makes them ideal candidates for jobs requiring networking and leads generation. They have no issues expressing their thoughts. Their sense of optimism is also commendable. Extroverts see a silver lining in every situation. They bounce back easily, focusing on righting the wrong instead of dwelling on it.
It is easy for people to imagine what introverts are like if they already know how to spot an extrovert. They say introverts make poor leaders, have weak interpersonal relationship skills, and are socially awkward. Unfortunately, one cannot create a diametric opposite of another. So, what are introverts like?
Introverted people never make rash decisions or spur-of-the-moment choices they might regret in the future. They invest time in processing every available information at their disposal before deciding. Introverts look for supporting evidence and other pertinent data, making them better informed. Hence, hiring managers pick them because of their problem-solving and analytical skills. Their planning and strategizing competencies make them ideal for certain jobs.
Introverts are excellent at creating things and visualizing concepts. They lead brainstorming sessions because their imagination empowers them to find novel solutions to issues, even though it might take some time.
People with a high level of introversion also avoid conflict. Studies show that introverts are more sensitive to criticisms or negative feedback than extroverts. This trait might compel some HR professionals to be wary of recruiting an introvert unless the organization requires it.
Implications for Recruiters and Hiring Managers
Determining a job candidate’s suitability for a job position is the core of an HR professional’s job. They must identify attributes that blend well with the organization’s culture and strategic objectives. Introversion and extroversion are personal qualities that might seem irrelevant in today’s workplace. However, these attributes have serious implications for recruiters and hiring managers.
- Work-Personality Fit
Hiring managers must determine the personality that fits well into a job. For example, extroverts are suitable for work requiring interpersonal skills, communication skills, risk-taking, and open-mindedness. Hence, it is not uncommon for HR professionals to look for extroverts to fill job positions in sales, marketing, events planning, teaching, mediation, healthcare, and customer service.
On the other hand, introverts are perfect as psychologists, psychiatrists, engineers, IT specialists, writers, accountants, scientists, architects, psychiatrists, artists, editors, and librarians. These professions require the inward direction of mental energies, relying on deep thought and analysis to produce an outcome.
- Which Assessments to Use
Some companies still rely on the MBTI tool to assess a candidate’s introversion or extroversion tendencies. However, we already know that this assessment tool dichotomizes the attribute in an all-or-nothing fashion. Sadly, the tool is not reflective of real-world experiences because people can exhibit signs of introversion or extroversion at any given point.
Hence, it would be best for hiring managers to use pre-employment assessment tools based on the Five-Factor Model. This tool allows them to measure the degree of extraversion a candidate has. An excellent example of this is the Big Five Personality Test, which empowers people to determine their level of agreement with a sentence reflecting a personality domain.
For example, they can score the statement, ‘I feel comfortable around people,’ from 1 to 5, with ‘5’ being a very accurate description of what the person feels about the statement. A score of ‘1’ means the person believes the statement inaccurately describes himself.
Final Thoughts on Extroverted and Introverted
Introversion and extroversion are not permanent attributes. One cannot be introverted every time because there are instances when some hints of extroversion will show. The implications for employers, recruiters, hiring managers, and other HR professionals are immense. Although personality is a crucial element of candidate screening and selection, it would be best for HR professionals to employ other assessment tools to validate the results of introversion-extroversion-related tests. Only then can they determine whether a candidate is best suited for a job position or not.