Introverts vs extroverts, the gulf in between

sunder das - introvert-mind











By Sunder  Das

The words  introverted  and  extroverted  have been current in our vocabulary for a long long time.      But laymen, as also professional people, are not very clear as to what these mean in terms of human experience.

We can perhaps postulate a personality continuum with extroversion at one end and introversion at the other.    However, it has to be realised that pure introverts or pure extroverts are a statistical abstraction as most people have characteristics of both.

Carl Gustav Jung delineated the extroverted person as being object-oriented and the introvert as being subjective.      It is, however, possible for a person to be extroverted on some occasions and introverted on others.      Jung went on to say that the unconscious of an introvert is extroverted and that the unconscious of an extrovert is introverted respectively.

Further, Jung postulated four psychological functions, namely, thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition.      Thinking and feeling were considered rational functions, and intuition and sensation as irrational functions.

It was Pavlov, in his study of conditioning, who postulated the concept of simultaneous cortical excitation and inhibition, the balance of which determined the conditionability of his dogs.      The late Professor H.J. Eysenck, one of the foremost psychologists the world has ever known, advanced the hypothesis that some human beings have predominance of cortical excitation, at the same time manifesting behavioural inhibition.      These are the introverted people.    Those who showed a predominance of cortical inhibition are the extroverts.

The Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS) situated in the brain stem Reticular Formation has been considered to play an important part in wakefulness, alertness, vigilance and in the regulation of sensory input.

Eysenck has suggested that there could be a physiological (and genetic) basis for personality.      Extroversion-Introversion is closely related to the habitual arousal level of the cortex.      We get tense and wound up, highly aroused before an important examination, but we are relaxed and drowsy late in the evening in front of the television.

The brain functions best at moderately high levels of arousal.      Introverts have higher habitual levels of arousal than extroverts do, which is why they tend to be better at learning, conditioning and remembering.

The cortex also has the function of keeping the lower levels of the brain in check, which is why the behaviour of introverts is more inhibited than that of extroverts.      Alcohol (a central nervous system depressant) makes people more extroverted, whereas amphetamines, which are stimulant drugs, have the opposite effect.      They make people more introverted.      Therefore, by giving people depressant or stimulant drugs we can alter the physical basis of their personality and thus their behaviour.

Eysenck postulated another dimension, namely neuroticism, which he defined as emotional stability-instability, a characteristic of the Autonomic Nervous System.      A combination of Introversion and Neuroticism makes for the so-called  dysthymic  disorders, namely anxiety states, reactive depression, phobias and obsessive compulsive reactions.    Extroverted neurotics are likely to develop hysterical reactions, such as paralytic or anesthetic symptoms of conversions, and psychopathy, which can lead to criminality.

Prolific laboratory and social experimentation to validate the theory of Introversion-Extroversion, has brought out some very interesting findings.      Some of these are:

ï‚·                Introverts have higher levels of cortical arousal, better ability to form conditioned responses, seem better learners using the formal direct teaching methods and are more susceptible to punishment.

ï‚·                The body temperature of introverts is higher in the morning and early afternoon and they do not suffer from boredom.

ï‚·                They seek stimulus avoidance, are cautious, have a lower threshold to pain and tend to be oversocialised.

ï‚·                They are process-oriented, tend to avoid competitive situations and have a rich fantasy life.

Extroverts, on the other hand, have a craving for stimulation, often need change of activity, and rest pauses, and are susceptible to rewards.      They are impulsive and are slower to learn the rules of society.

In the transcultural context, these findings have important implications.      As Eysenck has pointed out, genetic factors play a very important part in the development of introversion and extroversion.      What is more, there can be whole cultures, which may be termed introverted.      It is not very clear as to why this is so.      Perhaps natural selections over the centuries and cultural conditioning may have something to do with this phenomenon.

For instance, during the Vedic Period in the Indo-Gangetic Valley, the Aryan people were outward looking, whereas the way of life of the indigenous Dravidian people was definitely inward looking.      The Vedic Gods of the Aryans were powerful beings who enjoyed their existence to the fullest extent.      In contrast, the Dravidian God Siva was the ultimate renunciate, who would sit in the lotus posture absorbed in meditation over tremendously long periods of time.

Extroverted cultures may be termed centrifugal in an existential sense because the movement of its members is from the centre to the periphery, whereas introverted cultures can be seen as centripetal, the movement being from the periphery to the centre.      To take it one step further, extroverted societies consider the tangible as reality in contrast to the introverted ones, which consider external phenomena as comparatively unreal (Maya) when compared to the subjective reality.

Introverts may be seen to show stimulus aversion in the sense that they already have a high cortical arousal, any further stimulation being perceived as unpleasant.      It is perhaps the introversive characteristic of the reclusive Yogi, which enables him to spend a massive slice of his life ensconced in a cave oblivious to the hustle and bustle of city life.

I am sure many people have wondered how it is that astronauts are able to function inside cramped capsules for days or weeks on end, orbiting over the earth.      It stands to reason that most astronauts are chosen because they have predominantly introversive characteristics.

We know that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is a very introverted man whose social life is practically non-existent.      It is also true that introverted people are eminently suited for repetitive jobs like those on the assembly line, which ceases to have any significant stimulation after a while.

One of the interesting outcomes is the tendency of introverts towards process-orientation, which may have been responsible for the ancient sages of India to postulate the theory of Karma involving rebirth thousands or millions of times until the individual Atman is ready to merge with the Cosmic Consciousness.

Maharishi Patanjali, one of the celebrated sages of India, has enumerated eight steps designed to enable a person to actualise himself/herself.      Out of these, the fifth step is referred to as Pratyahara, meaning the act of turning inwards and withdrawal from the senses.      A fanciful example given in Hindu Scriptures is that of a tortoise withdrawing its legs and head into its shell.    Meditation seems to be a device for turning inwards.

There are many practical considerations, which have to be taken into account at this stage.      Introverted people seem to function best in the forenoon.      As the day progresses, their body temperatures and their efficiency tend to wane, whereas extroverted people come alive in the late afternoon.      It is interesting to note that in Vedanta and Yoga philosophies, 3 a.m., referred to as Brahma Muhurtam (or the time of Brahma) is said to be the best time for contemplation and study.

The threshold for pain is lower for the introvert and therefore it may be found that he suffers disproportionately to the degree of intensity of the stimulation which causes it.

Moreover, because of the enhanced ability to conceptualise, the introverted person imagines the worst that can happen.      It is well known that in the obsessive compulsive disorder and in phobic reactions the sufferer unwittingly perpetuates his condition by not testing the reality of the situation.

It has been said that introverts are very complex people with many contradictions in their nature.      Many of them do not find it difficult to hold opposing ideas in their consciousness.      Some psychologists hold that this kind of Janusian thinking makes for creativity and is very much a right hemisphere characteristic.      The gifted people who put together the Upanishads were certainly inward looking.      Introverts, because of their greater conditionability, learn the rules of society much quicker than their extroverted brethren do.

In other words, their physical behaviour seems to conform to the mores of society, at least in significant areas of their lives.      But in their thinking patterns, it is entirely another matter.      They seem to be extremely non-conformist, almost to the point of being antisocial.

There is some evidence that inward-looking people seem to have an intense libido, which makes them easily attracted to the members of the opposite sex.      At the same time the capacity for looking within causes the development of a very stringent superego (Conscience) which imposes a rigorous moral value.      It is therefore not difficult to infer that introverted people may have an internal struggle to keep their libido within moral bounds.

One of the important things about introversion is that it endows the person who has it, with insight into the personality predilections of people around him, enabling him to switch roles in a facile manner.      Therefore introverted people can be good actors.      This is not to say that all of them can be a success on the silver screen.      For every introverted Sir Lawrence Olivier, there are hundreds of others whose social inhibitions keep them very much earth-bound.

Humour is another thing that comes easily to the introvert.      Not that in a social context he could become the life and soul of the party, but there is certainly the capacity to chuckle inwardly or even to laugh outright, especially while reading a book.        Introverted people seem to be fond of cartoons of the Walt Disney kind.    Those who make cartoons are perhaps introverted as well.

Finally, there is the stereotype of an introvert, summarised in the words of William Shakespeare, when he makes Julius Caesar say:

“Let me have men about me that are fat,

Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights,

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look

He thinks too much

Such men are dangerous”

This somatotype seems to have died hard.      Extroverts are often portrayed as roly-poly, typified by the traditional appearance of Santa Claus.      Such people are supposed to laugh a great deal and to enjoy creature comforts.      By implication, introverts have to have opposing characteristics.      But in real life things are not that cut and dry; many introverts may not have that lean and hungry look!


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