What is an Introvert? Understanding Introvert Personality Types

How to Spot the Signs of Introversion in Yourself and Others and Use Them to Make your Life Better

The term introvert has been bandied about a lot recently—as have other trendy psychological buzzwords (like hypocrite, triggered, narcissist, self-care, and mindfulness). And like many of those other words adopted by people who spend far too much time on scrolling various social feeds on their phones and digesting click-bait articles, introvert (or introversion) has been shorn of its original meaning. In fact, labelling someone as an introvert or stating that you yourself are “such an introvert” has become sort of cool, in a weird way. Why? Why do people adopt any of these self-imposed labels? Because it’s neat to be in on the minority (introverts only makeup an estimated 33% of the human population); because they don’t really understand what it means (like how being OCD doesn’t just mean you like things neat and tidy—let’s talk about intrusive thoughts and rituals for a while, shall we?); because they may possess some introvert traits—most people—even the biggest extroverts around—do. Regardless of the why behind this relatively recent popularity of the introvert, this particular personality type (Actually a group of various personality types which share common traits) has become a hot topic.

People with introverted persoanlity types can learn to break out of their shells and have very successful lives.

There have been major books written about how introverts can survive and even thrive in a world built by and for extroverts (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, creator of The Quiet Revolution). Learning how to use introvert personality types to their fullest potential in leadership positions has become a whole subset of the self-help publishing sector. Introversion has become a topic (and a title) for popular music and music videos from major rising stars like Little Simz. Introverted characters have even become a popular trope (though often misrepresented) in popular movies like The Avengers, Big Hero Six, and many more. “Introvert” has even become a popular target for internet marketers who need to drive traffic to their websites so they slap it in just about every title for an article or blog post they can think of.

For those of us who have been introverts all our lives, this new-found interest in how our brain works is exciting, validating, and—at the same time—a bit offensive. But, like the good introvert I am, I’m going to analyze this phenomenon a bit and (because I’m always trying to push myself out of my comfort zone) I’m taking you with me.

So, let’s dig into this a little bit and see what really makes an introvert an introvert.

What’s an Introvert, Really?

The basic definition of introvert (as snipped from introvertdear.com) is “. . . someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments.” I like this definition a lot more than some you’ll find on the internet because it cuts to the core of all the fabled 4 types of introverted personalities. Other people trying to define introvert come up with stuff about how we gather energy from the quiet. Miriam Webster even says that introverts focus everything from our thoughts to our emotions internally—introspection—and that we would rather be alone. The Cambridge Dictionary takes defamation of introverts to a new level and defines an introvert as someone who is shy, and prefers to be alone, linking the word with others like bashful, inhibited, and mousy! And while an introvert may indeed be shy, bashful, and always alone, those introverted traits don’t really get at the true core of what introversion is.

People with introvert personality traits are not all shy wallflowers.

All these definitions really target specific introverted personality traits or actions that not all introvert people possess or express. For example, social introverts (yes, they do exist), put a lot of effort into focus energy outward and building relationships—usually with a handful of very dear friends. They still will get overwhelmed in large crowds and enjoy quiet though.

So, in my opinion, IntrovertDear’s definition of the word introvert is as good as it gets.

Why Are Introverts the Way They Are?

Another reason some of these definitions of the term introvert don’t really hit the mark is because they don’t really get at why introverts are the way we are. For years, people simply assumed that all introverts were shy, that they had little interest in the social aspects of life, that we were a cerebral bunch and preferred to live in our own minds. That’s why you see so many introverts portrayed as “freaks and geeks” in movies The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Garden State, and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (All great films which I highly recommend watching at least once in your life.)

However, modern research has shown that introverted people are the way we are because our brains are literally different than those possess by our extrovert cousins. We respond to dopamine—that “feel good” chemical that’s produced in response to external stimuli—in a much different way.

Introverted personality types stem from unique dopamine reactions. Dopamine and how our brains receive it makes us all introverts or extroverts.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in the brain that is tightly associated with pleasure. Essentially, when we do something that “feels good” (say, eat a piece of cake or have an orgasm) your body releases dopamine. It creates a calming sensation in the brain that we use to link these actions with positive reactions in our bodies.  

Abnormal production of and reaction to dopamine has been linked to addiction, ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease, Obesity, and Schizophrenia. And humans aren’t the only ones who experience these “dopamine highs.” Studies have found that in socialized pets (cats and dogs, mostly) that when they look into their owners’ eyes, their brains create and release dopamine as well.

But what does dopamine have to do with introversion? An introvert’s brain is much more sensitive to dopamine than an extrovert’s brain. Relatively small amounts can create the same sort of response in our brains that would require a massive dose to achieve in the brain of a life-long extrovert. Further study has found that this difference is linked to the physical number of dopamine receptors in our brains:  extroverts simply have many more of them.

Additionally, a secondary pleasure chemical, acetylcholine, acts differently in our bodies as well. While “for extroverts, the pleasurable effects of acetylcholine pales in comparison to the jolt of happiness they experience from dopamine . . .” introverts “crave” acetylcholine.

How does this chemical reaction shape our lives in such definitive ways? How does one person end up a gregarious flibbertigibbet with a huge ego (like Teddy Roosevelt or Richard Branson), and another end up a tight-lipped, “eccentric”, and camera shy like Steve Jobs or Steven Spielberg? Think about it. If you experience these types of chemical reactions from the day you’re born, you’re going to tailor everything in your life toward whatever situations give you the most stable mental state—the most comfortable “chemical high,” as it were.

Thus, introverts will naturally gravitate toward “quiet, minimally stimulating environments” while extroverts will go out and get that Dopamine they need however they can—the adulation of large groups of friends, family, and acquaintances; thrill-seeking adventures like skydiving; or charging to the top of the corporate ladder.

Signs of Introvert Personality Types

But how do you know if you (or someone you know) is really an introvert or if they’re just having a bad day? Here are a few signs of introverted personality types cadged from the internet’s portal of self-diagnosis:  WebMD.

  • You crave quiet and can’t concentrate with excess noise and “busy-ness”
  • You are thoughtful, reflective, analytic, and introspective
  • You are highly self-aware (of both your thoughts and your body—which is why a lot of introverts really are shy)
  • You need time to make decisions (even relatively small ones because you need to analyze them first)
  • You’re comfortable by yourself—you don’t need external stimulation to feel content
  • You would rather write rather than talk—it gives you time to get your thoughts in order and eliminates the necessity of presenting to others
  • You’re really drained after having been in crowds—the high levels of stimulation actually overworks your dopamine receptors and you have a very physical “crash”
  • You daydream-a lot

As an introvert, you may or may not have all these traits. Additionally, you may not exhibit these specific traits all the time. That’s why it can be tricky to spot true introverts in the wild. For example, if there’s something you’re really interested in (like a convention or a concert) you will likely put aside your need to be alone to enjoy the event. You might feel drained afterward, but you will make the effort to be present in the moment.

Also, many extroverts exhibit some of these behaviors, some of the time. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of people in your life and on the internet saying things like “I’m such an introvert” when you can clearly tell that they’re not.

But guess what. If you are an introvert, you’re in good company. There have been hundreds of thousands of influential introverts throughout the history of humankind and the rise of information technology has made becoming a strong, successful introvert in a world built by and for extroverts easier than ever before.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the most famous introverts throughout history and the present day.

A Short list of Famous Introverts

Have you ever been teased about being an introvert? You’re in good company. Here are a handful of famous introverts who have been through the very same experiences as you and come out better for it on the other side.

  • Albert Einstein—who is quoted as having said “the monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
  • Bill Gates—without whom the world of information technology would have been hamstrung.
  • Steven Spielberg—who often creates films with real introverted characters playing essential roles
  • Abraham Lincoln—who single-handedly changed the course of American (and world) history
  • J.K. Rowling—whatever you think of her, she is very, very successful
  • Elton John—who has perfected the art of playing a part in public even when he’s a hardcore introvert in his personal life

One thing that might surprise you very much is that many famous Hollywood actors are classified (or self-classified) as introverts. The list includes Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Courtney Cox, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, Steve Martin, and so many more there simply isn’t room enough here to write them all down!

(One theory is that introverts are drawn to acting because it allows them to dive deep into their own minds to create characters that fulfill an aspect of themselves that they cannot express in real life. Introverts are, after all, famous for being daydreamers!)

So, you see, if you are an introvert, it’s far from the end of the world!

quickly and easily become that individual’s best friend and most-trusted ally.

Myers-Briggs Say there are 8 Introverted Personality Types

The Meyers-Briggs list of introverted personality types is the most famous and well-known. It breaks down introversion into 8 distinct types based on personality traits such as anxiety level, emotional involvement, perception type, and so on. The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator slots people’s personalities into 16 categories based on the research of Carl Jung—a contemporary associate of Sigmund Freud. There has been some debate recently about the need to dissect introvert personality types further than the 4 most common types of introvert, but because we’re talking about introversion in all it’s glory, I’ll bring them up here.

meyrs-briggs introverted personality types

1) Introverted/Sensing/Thinking/Judging—defined by their logical approach to mental analysis

2) Introverted/Sensing/Feeling/Judging—typically more emotional-based than other types of introvert

3) Introverted/Intuitive/Feeling/Judging—play up the importance of connections between people and empathy

4) Introverted/Intuitive/Thinking/Judging—independent and analytical

5) Introverted/Sensing/Thinking/Perceiving—flexible and tolerant

6) Introverted/Sensing/Feeling/Perceiving—very averse to conflict but very openminded

7) Introverted/Intuitive/Feeling/Perceiving—loyal and very committed to personal values

8) Introverted/Intuitive/Thinking/Perceiving—logical and creative thinkers that get excited about new ideas but are very individualistic

As you can see, this Meyers-Briggs scale gets very finicky and dives a lot deeper into the mindset of various introverted personality types than is absolutely necessary. Considering that some of these 8 personality types are exceedingly rare (the Introverted/Intuitive/Feeling/Judging personality type is estimated to encompass only 1.3% of men and 1/6% of women), you can judge for yourself if you really need to dig that deeply.  

Personally, I like to use a simplified version of this Myers/Briggs formula that lumps us into 4 types of introvert.

Is There a Cure for Being an Introvert?

One of the questions I discovered when researching my book An Introvert’s Guide to Wealth: How to Break Out of Your Shell, Tap Into Your Inner Awesome, and Double Your Income to Live the Life You Deserve that I found extremely comical was “is there a cure for being introverted?” I mean, how can there be a “cure” for a personality type?

However, upon thinking about the question for a long time, I realized it wasn’t so funny after all. The people who ask it must see being an introvert as an inherently bad thing. Why is that? Like Susan Cain said in her Ted Talk about introversion, there is a significant bias in our current society against introverts. She postulates that sometime during the Industrial Revolution, human society began to value the personality traits of extroverts—big men of industry and science with big personalities and egos to match—over the thoughtful leaders who had been prized in pre-industrial society.

This bias has continued (some would say grown in strength, scope, and power) into the modern world and we now exist at a point in time when not only is being an introvert more likely to lead to lower-paying jobs, but it’s socially acceptable to consider introverts as lesser people—less important to the economy, less important to the process of governance, less important to leadership roles within the companies most of us work for.

What's an introvert? An extremely powerful and valuable person!
Striking a Power Pose is a solid way for introverts to become more assertive by boosting testosterone levels.

That’s simply not true. Introverts bring very real, very valuable skills to the table. We’re thoughtful and analytical. We control our emotions and aren’t prone to outbursts. We’re restrained and can often harness the potentially-dangerous energy of extroverts. We are extremely value-centric and are often loyal to our limited professional and social circles beyond compare.

I think it’s more likely what the people who ask whether or not there’s a cure for being an introvert are actually asking is, how can I—as an introvert—succeed personally and professionally in a world run by extroverts?

That’s exactly what my upcoming book and the purpose of this entire website is about. I’ve struggled with introvert personality traits all my life. I was—to peg myself into a square hole—an anxious introvert. Totally averse to social situations, cripplingly shy, very self-conscious—I was the quintessential “freak” (or “geek” depending on your preferred term). Yet I’ve harnessed those same introverted personality traits to become very successful in my professional life. I’ve risen through the ranks in the company for which I work, I’m a leader with dozens of employees under me, I’ve nearly doubled my income in less than five years, and I’ve placed myself in a circle of supporters who have my best interests in mind (if not at heart).

So no, there is no cure for being an introvert. Nor should there ever be one. Being an introvert is an extremely unique and powerful tool you can leverage to make a great life for yourself if you know how to do it. So please, come on this self-discovery journey with me and learn how introverts can take over the world!

An Introvert’s Guide to a Wealthy Life is now available in Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover editions!