Introverts VS. Extroverts: Why Our Brains Determine How We Socialise

Have you ever been labelled as an introvert or an extrovert? If you would identify yourself as such, on what terms do you base this?

The characterisation of an ‘introvert’ versus an ‘extrovert’ has become over-simplified. Introverts as commonly seen as being ‘shy’ and extroverts as ‘outgoing’ people, while the scientific definition is slightly less straightforward. 

"There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. - Carl G. Jung"

The terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ were first introduced by Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, in the early 20th century. When describing the psychology of the conscious mind, Jung uses these terms to refer to differing attitudes toward life; two different 'modes’ of reacting to circumstance.

The fundamentals of his theory stated that people exhibit either ‘introverted’ or ‘extroverted’ personality tendencies, depending on how they prefer to ‘recharge’ their energy. In other words, do we gather energy in solitude, or whilst surrounded by people?

An ‘introverted attitude’ is therefore characterised by an inward flow of personal energy, gained from spending time alone in reflection, with a rich imagination. In contrast, an ‘extroverted attitude’ is characterised by an outward flowing of personal energy, gathered from being surrounded by friends at a party or in a crowded bar, for example. Jung explained that every individual inhibits elements of both trait. Though some of us may tend to show one trait more than the other may be characterised by the term, but in theory we are never one or the other.

A Question of Arousal

In the 1960’s, psychologist Hans Eysenck proposed that the main difference between the two is not how about they enjoyed being around people, but rather that, biologically speaking, how they demand different levels of arousal to feel socially 'satisfied'. In other words, being 'introverted' versus 'extroverted' is determined by the extent to which our brains become alert and responsive to stimulation and rewards.

Eysenck’s theory states that extroverts have a lower base rate of arousal– meaning they work harder to arouse their minds and bodies in order to reach the same ‘normal’ state that introverts reach more easily. This leads those who showing more of an extroverted attitude to seek out novelty, adventure, and the company of others. Extroverts also have a greater response to rewards, meaning their brains crave the dopamine (or the ‘happy’ drug) responses triggered by neural reward system.

It's been estimated that ‘extroverts’ make up the majority (around 50 to 74 percent) of the population. What does this means in terms of our digital habits? The fact that there are more extroverted attitudes among us, who crave the 'arousal' we get from others, becomes an especially interesting fact when considering the hormonal responses that we get from interacting with technology: the dopamine response loop occurring in our brains each time we receive a notification on our smartphones or check in with social media.

In practice, what does this mean about different personality types interacting with technology? To what extent are our addictions to our devices at all relatable to how extroverted or introverted we are as individuals? How does the reward feedback loop fire up in an introverted brain, versus an extroverted brain, when we’re scanning through our new feeds? Perhaps we’ll find out...