Most people think of themselves as either an extrovert or an introvert, and they often think it has to do with how outgoing or shy they are.
And yet introversion and extroversion are actually based on where we get our energy. An easy way to tell if you’re an introvert or an extrovert is to answer this question: After a long week of work, which would you rather do: spend some quiet time alone OR go out with friends? The introverts among us would prefer some alone time, because lots of interaction can be physically and emotionally draining – introverts lose energy through human interaction and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from interacting with others, so at the end of a busy work week, they crave time with friends and loved ones to recharge.
Research shows that the brains of extroverts and introverts actually look different, with each group processing “reward” differently. Compared to introverts, extroverts show greater activity in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (areas linked to the brain’s reward system) when faced with risky, surprising, or unfamiliar situations. In other words, the brains of extroverts are wired to experience greater reward from unfamiliar situations. These same situations, however, can be overly stimulating for introverts, which can cause them to shut down.
There’s also research that shows that extroverts and introverts also process stimuli in different areas of the brain. For extroverts, new stimulation travels a relatively short path through the areas of the brain associated with taste, touch, and auditory and visual processing. For introverts, however, new stimulation takes a much longer, more complicated path through the areas of the brain associated with planning, remembering, and solving problems.
There is no “good” or “bad” to either side of the spectrum. In fact, extroverted people can be shy and introverted people can love public speaking. What’s important to know is that the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently. It’s also good to know how people on each side of the spectrum like to be treated. Check out these graphics for lots of helpful tips on the care and nurturing of the introverts and extroverts in your life!