Introverts versus Extroverts

Are you in the “I recharge by myself” camp? Or in the “being around others gives me energy” camp?

If you said yes to the first question, you likely describe yourself as an introvert. If you instead said yes to the latter, you think of yourself as an extrovert. There may be a few mavericks out there that may reply “neither” or “sometimes.”

What if I told you that the mavericks were right? That this dichotomy that has influenced our self-concept for so long and impacted the way we organize others’ personalities was false?

Indeed, a study by Dr. Fleeson suggests just that. According to the research conducted by this professor at Wake Forest University, intrapersonal variability is more significant than interpersonal variability on the Big Five personality traits.

Some background ….

The Big Five theory of personality, is one of the leading theories in personality psychology. It maintains that there are five domains of personality traits that describe individuals across the globe: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (OCEAN.)

Openness to experience is akin to intellect, or one’s intellectual curiosity. Such people are likely to value continued education, reading and other nerdy things. They may also be perceived as open minded or well rounded.

Consciousness is discipline or diligence. The non-procrastinators, the detail-oriented, the polished folk. Consciousness highly predicts professional success, even more than openness in some contexts.

Extraversion describes one’s preference for engaging with others versus engaging with one’s own thoughts. Some use the analogy of feeling energized by spending time alone (introversion) or by spending time with others (extraversion.) It is also misunderstood as synonymous with shyness, but this trait is distinct from social anxiety or shyness.

Agreeableness is basically friendliness. Those who score high on this trait are likely to get along well with most people. They are likely to be described as being good team players.

Lastly neuroticism is a trait that predicts anxiety. It is not the same as OCD nor does it describe painful attention to detail. This trait instead predicts proneness to some mental illnesses (like depression).

Going back to the aforementioned study…

After asking participants in his study to rate their Big Five traits at various moments of their day, comparing the day to day variability for each participant and the differences between participant responses, Dr. Fleeson found something interesting. According to the data, each person tends to exhibit wide variations in their big five traits from moment to moment. The changes were so vast within each participant, that they were larger than the difference between participants.

In other words, Sally’s scores on the Big Five on Saturday night are so different than her scores on Monday morning that she could be considered an entirely different person from one day to the next.

The results of the study leads us to question whether the extravert- introvert dichotomy is really true. If one’s personality profile changes dramatically from context to context, is using one label actually capturing the truth? Probably not.

I’m sure that in reflecting on your own behaviors, thoughts and emotions this insight might ring true. You do not fit into a box. Nobody does, and we do not really have to!

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