As we browse online and in magazines and books talking about finding our true selves, it is difficult not to stumble across the range of personality tests available to those of us who enjoy discovering which categories we might fit into.

Are you a leader or a follower? Do you make your decisions based on your heart or your head? Which character from your favourite TV programme are you most like?

There is a rich amount of material available for those who enjoy both a comedic and altogether more serious insight into the components of the person they are. One of the most prolific themes in these tests of personality is the question of whether we are introverts or extroverts.

Introvert or Extrovert?

When we think of the words “introverted” or “extroverted”, we will likely think of several terms that we associate with each of these expressions. Introverts are “quiet”, “shy”, “reserved” “reflective”, “loners”. Meanwhile, extroverts are “outgoing”, “loud”, “talkative”, and “gregarious”.

At their simplest definitions, introverts enjoy being alone and are comfortable with solitude. They may find it difficult to engage in social interactions. Extroverts are energetic and thrive off other people. They find less enjoyment in being alone and are energised through being around others.

At face value, finding out whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert seems to be a fairly simple process. If you’re quiet and enjoy your own company, you’re an introvert. If you’re outgoing and thrive in social situations, you’re an extrovert. Can it really be this straightforward?

Are there Biological differences between an Introvert and an Extrovert?

Much debate exists as to whether the labels of “introvert” and “extrovert” are a suitable method of describing our personalities, and whether our introverted and extroverted tendencies are an accurate measure of our behaviour and reactions to our social world.

Hans Eysenck was a psychologist who studied introversion and extroversion. Eysenck argued that there were biological differences between introverts and extroverts, in the form of differences in cortical arousal in the brain.

person with a book
people in a crowd with live music

Why are Psychometric Tests so Interested in whether you are an Introvert or Extrovert?

It is these biological differences that form the basis of many arguments provided for the view that introverts and extroverts are fundamentally different. A further argument to support this is the prevalence of these terms in our society.

We all know what introversion and extroversion mean, we can categorise behaviours and traits as introverted and extroverted, and we can all recognise and describe our own introverted and extroverted traits. This level of understanding and awareness of introversion and extroversion is a valuable indication that such terms do exist and are an insightful way to explore our personalities. This is perhaps why measures of introversion and extroversion are so prevalent in psychometric tests of personality.

Are you both an Introvert and an Extrovert, depending on the Situation?

Much of the criticism of categorising personality using terms such as introversion and extroversion suggests that these traits themselves cannot explain our behaviour. Research by another psychologist, Walter Mischel, concluded that there was little evidence for behavioural consistency in individuals. Mischel believed that behaviours were situation-specific and varied as a result of maturity and new experiences. Indeed, the focus on the personality traits of an individual doesn’t seem to leave much room for any societal or environmental influences, both in terms of our own behaviour and our perceptions of others.

What Factors determine us as an Introvert or Extrovert?

Do behavioural outcomes relate to our personal qualities alone, or are we also shaped by factors such as our personal experiences, social relationships and roles, or our biological make-up? Does the behavioural stability suggested by a model of introvert-extravert measurement exist, or is our behaviour more flexible in nature?

Will the person who is described as introverted, due to their avoidance of speaking in public, for example, always avoid situations where public speaking is required? Or would it be more feasible that this person would be able to speak in public with more ease, given time and the opportunity to develop their skills in this area?

Meanwhile, can everyone who is perceived to enjoy social gatherings be described as extroverted? Or could it be the case that the reason someone seems so at ease in social situations is because they are putting on a performance to cover up the fact that they feel quite uncomfortable or nervous when in the company of others? This is certainly an interesting chain of thought.

Can we all be simply categorised into the neatly packaged traits of Introvert and Extrovert?

Or are our personalities more flexible? Would you describe yourself as more of an introvert or an extrovert?