Opposites. They’re so seamlessly woven into our existence, we seldom pay much attention. In matters of love, it’s long been said – and makes sense, really – that “opposites attract.” But do the mystical expressions of yin and yang in everyday life apply to introverts and extroverts? Are the seeming opposites in personality made for one another?
First, it’s important to understand what is really at play when we talk about introversion and extroversion. In laypeople-land (where most of us reside), we learn about “introverts” and “extroverts” in a way that is synonymous with “shy” and “outgoing” respectively. In reality, while some general expressions of introversion and extroversion may be consistent with those adjectives, true (clinical) meaning of the terms isn’t quite that simple. In fact, many people we think of as outgoing, like anyone on TV, must be extraverts, right? And the shy guy in the corner of the club must be an introvert, right? Not necessarily. Here’s why.
Introversion Versus Extraversion
Along with other research, an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology tested how something called reward sensitivity applies to extroverts and introverts. Results suggested that while people’s desire to be around people or be alone is one component of the two personality types, it is actually a behavioral concept called reward sensitivity that lies at the heart of what makes an introvert an introvert, and an extrovert an extrovert.
And this isn’t just true for Illinois (where the research was conducted) or American introverts and extroverts. In fact, the lead author of the investigation into what makes introverts and extroverts tick conducted follow-up research spanning 39 countries and 6000 people. The findings? Across the globe, the same things cause people to fall into the category of introvert or extrovert – and it has to do with individuals’ level of reward sensitivity.
A Bit More Explanation:
From the research, Lucas and colleagues found that extroverts tend to feel a more pleasant effect from things that are stimulating to the human construct – like feelings of desire, excitement, enthusiasm, and energy – than introverts. Also, likely to the surprise of the common person, the study found that “Both extroverts and introverts benefit from social interaction… However, extroverted participants did not spend any more time in social situations than introverted participants.” In other words, extroverts don’t necessarily long to dance on the table and introverts don’t run screaming for the hills when they spot another being.
What is true – in at least a grossly oversimplified way – is that extroverts tend to seek out stimulating experiences and introverts tend to avoid them. How this plays out in real life…
Introverts are easily stimulated and actually feel a level of physical and mental discomfort from the stimulation, so inherently avoid situations that may lead to overstimulation. They are highly focused, often prefer writing to talking, quieter places to noisy ones, and one-on-one relationships and social interactions to group settings. A few famous introverts:
- Abraham Lincoln
- Audrey Hepburn
- Matt Lauer
- Bill Gates
It tends to require an increased amount of stimulation for extroverts to feel a sense of pleasure, so extroverts are drawn to scenarios in which they’ll be highly stimulated. For example, extroverts enjoy the feeling elicited when meeting a new person so will be quick to introduce themselves to others. They also enjoy the “buzz” of a busy place like a concert or party. However, this “reward” feeling doesn’t always mean a busy or loud environment. Extroverts also seek out other forms of stimulation, like working very hard to accomplish a task. Pride and acceptance from others also provide the chicken soup for an extrovert’s soul. A few famous extroverts:
- David Spade
- President Obama
- Robin Williams
The Question Answered: Do Introverts and Extraverts “Attract”?
In 1998, the Myers-Briggs Foundation published research that suggested that the actual ratio of introverts to extroverts, based on the first, official random sample showed introverts 50.7 percent and extroverts 49.3 percent of the population.
With about half of us falling into one, and the other half of us falling into the other of the two categories, it’s hard not to ask the question… do we attract?
Yes. Sometimes. But not for reasons as simple as “shy” attracts to “outgoing” or “quiet” attracts to “loud.” If we stick with the typical stereotypes, and sprinkled in our limited accurate knowledge regarding the two personality types, the conclusion would actually appear that introverts and extroverts don’t have enough fundamentally in common to enjoy a thriving existence together.
On the contrary, however. Introverts are extremely focused and relationships are no exception. They enjoy social stimulation, but usually in one-to-one scenarios, which bodes well for anyone who happens to be paired with an introvert. And while we think of extroverts as outgoing, and requiring the limelight, that’s not necessarily the case. Extroverts simply require stimulation, and this stimulation (get your mind out of the gutter) can be offered up as easily by introverts as it can by other extroverts.
Just as not all other types of opposites attract, introverts aren’t necessarily drawn to extroverts and vice versa, because they’re opposites. In fact, introverts and extroverts will do the best together when the things that appeal to them overlap. For example, introverts typically enjoy an evening in, because busy social stimulation is a little uncomfortable. If an introvert is in love with an extrovert who enjoys an action-packed movie in, followed by an outpouring of deep and meaningful conversation, the formula can equal a couple of uber-happy lovers.
If, on the other hand, an extrovert and introvert begin together, and either or both muddle through situations not in their area of comfort for the sake of not rocking the proverbial love boat – eventually – things may fizzle. We can’t, after all, change our makeup. We’re likely one or the other, and how successful our relationships are has a lot to do with how comfortable we are deep on the inside, when we’re with our chosen “other.”
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