If you’re an Introvert, you’ve probably been told you’d be happier, more successful at your career, more fun, or just plain make the Extraverts more comfortable if you’d only decide to be more like them.
Is any of it true? Should you, like the proverbial leopard, want to change your spots and become an Extravert? And even if you wanted to, could you?
Let’s take a look at a bit of the science behind extraversion and introversion and see if you could change your core personality type.
Can an Introvert become an Extravert?
Science says yes…to a degree.
Like many opposite traits, introversion and extraversion are on a spectrum, and different people lie at different places along the spectrum.
Some Introverts are definitely “more introverted” than others. And it often depends on the situation. It is very possible for an Introvert to have some extraverted tendencies, and to enjoy employing them in certain situations – and vice versa for Extraverts who display more introverted tendencies.
We also may change somewhat over time. If you started out very introverted, you may develop more extraverted traits later in life. Or you may consciously choose to develop your capacity for extraversion.
But either way, it’s not the same as being an Extravert.
The effect only lasts for a little while
Most of us can practice exhibiting our non-dominant trait for short periods of time or in certain situations.
Perceivers can learn to flex their Judging muscles and be more decisive, Intuitives can practice using and enjoying their senses, and yes, Introverts can practice being more outgoing, expressive and social, more like their Extravert counterparts.
In other words, we can definitely choose to act more like Extraverts, for a time.
But it takes effort and energy to swim upstream, so to speak. It’s probably possible to do now and then, and it may be worth doing at times. But behaving differently isn’t the same as changing who we are at our core.
And trying to be something we’re not can be exhausting. So, why is it that we’re one way or another? And can we really become our opposite?
But can you really “switch sides”?
Can an Introvert become an Extravert? That’s probably about as likely as being able to change your blue eyes to green. You could, of course, wear colored contacts, to make them look green, but they would still be blue underneath.
Eventually, you have to take the contacts off, and your true color will be revealed. Also, after you wear them for a while, they’ll likely irritate your eyes and make you tired.
Similarly, while we can ‘act’ extraverted for periods of time, that won’t change our underlying introversion. And if we force ourselves to act against our nature for too long, we’ll be left irritated and exhausted.
Experience and intuition tell us that an Introvert is not likely to be able to change into an Extravert. But is there science to back it up?
Like with much of psychology and personality theory, it’s not all black and white, but science does have something to say about why you’re an Introvert or an Extravert, and why that’s not likely to change.
Introvert and Extravert brains are different
Whether personality type is inborn or develops in childhood, once it’s fixed, it’s pretty much the way it is. If you’re an Introvert, you can act more extraverted for a while, but pretty soon you have to take the contacts out. In short, you are what you are.
There are several differences in brain activity, structure, and neurotransmitters in the brains of Introverts versus those of Extraverts.
It isn’t certain whether we’re born a certain way – though there are some arguments for a genetic component – or we become the way we are because of early influences.
What is known is that there are definite, measurable differences between Introverts and Extraverts, and our brain chemicals and activity shed some light on how and why we’re different.
In our article The Science Behind Extraversion and Introversion, we summarize three differences in the brains of Extraverts and Introverts.
“Introversion is associated with increased activity in frontal lobe regions.”
A study using PET scans showed that cerebral blood flow was increased in the frontal lobes for Introverts, “while extraverts had lower blood flow in regions associated with behavioral inhibition.”
Another difference has to do with dopamine. Extraverts may have greater sensitivity to dopamine, which is responsible, in part, for greater responsiveness to rewards from our environment. This increased dopamine/reward sensitivity may be “due to a greater number of dopamine receptors in the midbrain.”
“Introverts have greater blood flow on a certain acetylcholine pathway in the brain.”
According to quietrev.com, “Like dopamine, acetylcholine is also linked to pleasure; the difference is, acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. … It also helps explain why Introverts like calm environments.”
So, it could be said that introversion or extraversion is etched into our brains. If you’re an Introvert, there are differences in your brain, so you likely can’t just “become” an Extravert, even if you wanted to.
But is this bad news?
Brown, green, blue, gray, and hazel eyes are all beautiful in their own way, and life would be boring if everyone looked the same.
Chances are, if you’re an Introvert, and you’re good at ignoring all the noise saying you should be more like everyone else (and if you’re really an Introvert that’s exactly one of the things you’re good at) you wouldn’t really want to change.
You might like trying on the other type for fun once in a while. Just like if you’re a jeans and T-shirt kind of person it might be fun to put on a tuxedo or evening gown now and then. But you wouldn’t want to do it all the time.
In the same way, you’re probably happier being your true Introvert self, even if others want you to think otherwise.
And let’s face it – the world needs Introverts too. If everyone’s talking and no one’s listening; if everyone’s at the party or giving a rousing speech and no one’s at home reading, reflecting, and generating new ideas, where would we be?
Introverts and what they contribute are necessary, and we’re more likely to be happy when not constantly working against our nature, whatever others may say.
The bottom line
Whether it’s due to genetics, early development, brain response to learned behaviors, or a combination of factors, there are clear differences in the strengths, preferences, and even the brains of Introverts as compared to Extraverts.
While we can certainly develop our non-dominant traits, such as extraversion, and each of us lies somewhere different on the “spectrum,” there is still a clear difference in whether we are an Introvert or an Extravert.
There is a difference between exercising Extravert behaviors, which is possible for a while, and changing our nature to become an Extravert which, since it goes against our natural personality and brain makeup, probably is not truly possible.
Fortunately, there are strengths associated with each trait, so we – and the world around us – are likely better off if we use our energy to work with instead of against our dominant trait.
Can an Introvert become an Extravert? Probably not. Would we want to if we could? Again, probably not.