Personality typing can be validating, encouraging, eye-opening, and occasionally…frustrating.
The Myers and Briggs Personality test places your personality somewhere on a scale between introversion and extraversion. You might, even before testing, have a definitive answer for this one. Many people know whether time spent in large groups leaves them feeling drained or energized. They can tell you whether spending time in isolation feeds their soul or leaves them empty and lonely.
Can I be an Introvert and an Extravert?
But what if you aren’t sure? And what if the test results come back as uncertain as you are? If the idea is to learn how we tick and understand how to work with our best selves, then it can be confusing if our test results appear ambiguous or even seem to change when we retest at different times.
Much like how you answered most of the Introvert/Extravert questions on the personality test, science says, “It depends!” If you see yourself as someone who displays characteristics of both ends of the scale, then you walk the middle ground, and there’s more to explore.
Walking the talk
Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Dr. Carl Jung first coined the terms Introvert and Extravert in the 1920s. As previously mentioned, they refer to two opposite ways that people conserve and use their personal energy as they interact with daily activities. While these two typing labels caught on, Dr. Jung also insisted there was “no such thing as a pure Introvert or Extravert. The terms were to designate a certain penchant, a certain tendency.”
The third group of people that existed in the middle did not have a label as yet, but Dr. Jung conceded that this group of people were not clearly identified as either.
And they were in the majority.
Dr. Jung’s theories have since undergone challenge and evolution, and today’s personality psychologists use new tools and methods to evaluate personality. There are fascinating studies that both bolster and contradict different personality theories as the field continues to explore the science behind our human behaviors.
Dr. Brian Little, author of Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, approaches the science of personality along the lines of the Big Five model and explains that traits such as extraversion and introversion are 50% genetically sourced, 25% influenced by social or cultural factors, and 25% influenced by individual values and goals.
The neocortex, a part of our brain responsible for higher mental functions like spatial reasoning and conscious thought also holds our sensory perception. It’s wired with an optimal level of neocortical arousal and each of us instinctively live our lives with an attempt to keep it balanced.
A hormone, dopamine, affects how the brain perceives stimuli and our behavior is an attempt to regulate stimuli, manifesting as introversion or extraversion. Extraversion is linked to dopamine levels. Extraverts easily feel bored and restless and react more strongly to external stimuli that involve risk or unfamiliar experiences. They draw energy from a room full of people because it raises the neocortical state of arousal.
Introverts have fewer dopamine receptors in their brains than Extraverts and are chronically above the optimal level of neocortical arousal. They are easily overstimulated, translating into feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Because of this lower threshold for external stimulation, they will seek quiet solitude to lower their level of dopamine.
Moving in the middle
Two different types of personalities are recognized for people who display both introverted and extraverted characteristics, and each has a distinct way of working with personal energy management.
While our brains have definite chemical responses to stimulation, we are also able to modify our instinctual behavior when circumstances require it. People flex when things like mood, context, goals, or situations come into play. Maybe not well, or for long, but humans try to find a way to adapt when they must.
Although the Myers-Briggs Company insists that you can’t prefer both extraversion and introversion simultaneously, everyone behaves like one or the other over time.
If you tend to deliberately hop back and forth between attending social events and isolating over days, then you may be an Omnivert. Omniverts are able to balance stimulus levels by being fully Extraverted one day and fully Introverted for a couple of days of recovery afterward. There is never a doubt which one you are on any given day, but as a result you can’t plan ahead because you don’t know which you’ll be on a calendar.
Omniverts tend to oscillate between the two extreme ends of the scale, and their energy management decisions are internally driven. Your colleagues or friends tend to be puzzled by your swings between the need for people and the need for solitude. You manage your overall neocortical stability regardless of what others demand from you, and you do it over long periods of time.
Psychologist Hans Eysenck used the term, “Ambivert” in 1947. Ambiverts manage their energy by making smaller adjustments in the center of the scale. They slide around on the Introvert/Extravert spectrum, readily switching behaviors as the day progresses. Ambiverts are externally driven and the most adaptable. You wouldn’t characterize them as either an aggressive steamroller or an aloof, dismissive personality. If you feel like a chameleon, able to adjust on demand, you are likely an Ambivert.
Ambiverts tend to answer the personality test social questions with neutrality because, in their mind, there weren’t enough details to know what they’d do in the given situation. They read social situations as they go and decide how much energy they are willing to spend in the moment. Ambiverts maintain the neocortical arousal by swaying back and forth as circumstances evolve during the day, striving for a comfortable middle ground.
Because Ambiverts keep very good track of where their energy levels are, they can lean into their strengths: stability, dependability, and what author Dan Pink calls the “ambivert advantage.”
Ambiverts draw on the strengths of both introversion and extraversion, and Dr. Adam Grant took the idea into a relevant, measurable testing ground. His published results reveal that Ambiverts are more effective at closing software sales than either Extraverts or Introverts.
By being neither hypersensitive nor aggressive and knowing when to speak up and when to yield the floor, Ambiverts maintain an approachable yet assertive demeanor that the majority of customers can relate to.
Whether you need time with your people or your thoughts, there are personality strengths to lean into. Understanding both introversion and extraversion will help you make the most of any given day and in defining your own unique personality.