Extroverts, Introverts, Aspies and Codies

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about extroversion (E) and introversion (I). As a fundamental spectrum of personality dispositions, E/I represents a timeless theme in psychology. But it manifests itself differently during different periods in history. Social psychology is the child of a historicist discipline (sociology) and an effectively ahistorical one (psychology).  The reason I’ve been thinking a lot about the E/I spectrum is that a lot of my recent ruminations have been about how the rapid changes in social psychology going on around us might be caused by the drastic changes in how E/I dispositions manifest themselves in the new (online+offline) sociological environment.  Here are just a few of the ideas I’ve been mulling:

  • As more relationships are catalyzed online than offline, a great sorting is taking place: mixed E/I groups are separating into purer groups dominated by one type
  • Each trait is getting exaggerated as a result
  • The emphasis on collaborative creativity, creative capital and teams is disturbing the balance between E-creativity and I-creativity
  • Lifestyle design works out very differently for E’s and I’s
  • The extreme mental conditions (dubiously) associated with each type in the popular imagination, such as Asperger’s syndrome or co-dependency, are exhibiting new social phenomenology

It was the last of these that triggered this train of thought, but I’ll get to that.

I am still working through the arguments for each of these conjectures, but whether or not they are true, I believe we are seeing something historically unprecedented: an intrinsic psychological variable is turning into a watershed sociological variable. Historically, extrinsic and non-psychological variables such as race, class, gender, socio-economic status and nationality have dominated the evolution of societies. Psychology has at best indirectly affected social evolution. For perhaps the first time in history, it is directly shaping society.

So since so many interesting questions hinge on the E/I distinction, I figured it was time to dig a little deeper into it.

Note: Apropos of nothing, I’ll be in Seattle tomorrow through Monday morning. If anyone is interested in meeting up, post on the ribbonfarm Facebook page, and we’ll see if we can work something out.

Wrong, Crude and Refined Models

I’ll assume you are past the lay, wrong model of the E/I spectrum. Introversion has nothing to with shyness or social awkwardness.

If you have taken a Psychology 101 course at some point in your life, you should be familiar with the crude model: extroverts are energized by social interactions while introverts are energized by solitude. Every major personality model has an introversion/extroversion spectrum that roughly maps to this energy-based model. It is arguably the most important of the Big Five traits.

For the ideas I am interested in exploring, the Psychology 101 model is too coarse. We sometimes forget that there are no true solitary types in homo sapiens. As a social species, we merely vary in the degree to which we are sociable. We need a more refined model that distinguishes between varieties of sociability.

A traditional mixed group of introverts and extroverts exhibits these varieties clearly. Watch a typical student group at a cafeteria. The extroverts will be in their mutually energizing huddle at the center, while the introverts will be hovering at the edges, content to get the low dosage social energy they need either through one-on-one sidebar conversations or occasional contributions tossed like artillery shells into the extrovert energy-huddle at the core. Usually contributions designed to arrest groupthink or runaway optimism/pessimism.

As this example illustrates, a more precise and accurate view of the distinction is that introverts need less frequent and less intense social interaction, and can use it to fuel activities requiring long periods of isolation. Extroverts need more frequent and more intense social interactions, and can only handle very brief periods away from the group. They prefer to use the energy in collaborative action.

While true solitude (like being marooned an island without even a pet) is likely intolerable to 99% of humanity, introverts prefer to spend the social energy they help create individually. This leads naturally to a financial metaphor for the E/I spectrum.

E/I Microeconomics

Positive social interactions generate psychological energy, while negative ones use it up. One way to understand the introvert/extrovert difference is to think in terms of where the energy (which behaves like money) is stored.

Introverts are transactional in their approach to social interactions; they are likely to walk away with their “share” of the energy generated by any exchange, leaving little or nothing invested in the relationship itself.  This is like a deposit split between two individually held bank accounts. This means introverts can enjoy interactions while they are happening, without missing the relationships much when they are inactive. In fact, the relationship doesn’t really exist when it is inactive.

Extroverts are more likely to invest most of the energy into the relationship itself, a mutually-held joint account that either side can draw on when in need, or (more likely) both sides can invest together in collaboration.  This is also why extroverts miss each other when separated. The mutually-held energy, like a joint bank account, can only be accessed when all parties are present. In fact strong extroverts don’t really exist outside of their web of relationships. They turn into zombies, only coming alive when surrounded by friends.

In balance sheet terms, introverts like to bring the mutual social debts as close to zero as possible at the end of every transaction. Extroverts like to get deeper and deeper into social debt with each other, binding themselves in a tight web of psychological interdependence.

This shared custodial arrangement of relationship energy is one reason strong relationships are the biggest predictor of happiness: as Jonathan Haidt has put it, happiness is neither inside, nor outside, but in-between. Happiness is the energy latent in interpersonal bonds that helps smooth out the emotional ups and downs of individual lives. The more you put into them, the happier you will be.

Continuing the financial analogy, the small pools of individually-held stores of introvert energy tend to be more volatile in the short term but better insulated from the exposures of collectivization. The large collectively held stores of extrovert energy tend to be less volatile in the short term, but more susceptible to dramatic large scale bubbles of optimism and widespread depression.

Both sides of course, pay a price for their preferred patterns of social energy management. But that’s a topic for another day. In this post, I am more interested in bald behavioral implications of this model:


  1. require a minimum period of isolation every day to survive psychologically
  2. are energized by weak-link social fields, such as coffee shops, where little interaction is expected
  3. are energized by occasional, deeper 1:1 interactions, but still at arm’s length; no soul-baring
  4. are energized by such 1:1 encounters with anyone, whether or not a prior relationship exists
  5. are drained by strong-link social fields such as family gatherings
  6. are reduced to near-panic by huddles: extremely close many-many encounters such as group hugs
  7. have depth-limited relationships that reach their maximum depth very fast


  1. need a minimum amount of physical contact everyday, even if it is just laying around with a pet
  2. are energized by strong-link social fields such as family gatherings
  3. like soul-baring 1:1 relationships characterized by swings between extreme intimacy and murderous enmity
  4. are not willing to have 1:1 encounters with anyone unless they’ve been properly introduced into their social fields
  5. are made restless and anxious by weak-link social fields such as coffee shops unless they go with a friend
  6. are reduced to near panic by extended episodes of solitude
  7. have relationships that gradually deepen over time to extreme levels

It took me a long time to learn point 4 in particular, because it is so counter-intuitive with respect to the wrong-but-influential conflation of introversion and shyness.  I am a classic introvert. You might even say I am an extreme introvert. One of my nicknames in college was “hermit.” Yet, I find that I am far more capable of talking with random strangers than most extroverts.

Extroverts tend to enjoy spending a lot of time with people they know well. Talking to strangers is less rewarding to them because most E-E transactions are maintenance transactions that help maintain, spend or appreciate the invested capital in the relationships. Some of my extrovert friends and family members are even offended by how easily and openly I talk to random strangers: to them it seems obvious that depth of sharing should correlate to length of interpersonal history. People like me simply don’t get that since our approach to relationships is to pretty much bring the depth back to zero at the end of every conversation.

The E-I Tension

Introverts (E’s) and extroverts (I’s)  have a curiously symbiotic, love-hate relationship as a result. Both E-E and I-I interactions tend to be harmonious, since there is consensus on what to do with any energy generated. Positive E-E interactions strengthen bonds over time. Positive I-I interactions generate energy that is used up before the next interaction, with no collective storage.

It is E-I interactions that create interesting tensions. Extroverts accuse introverts of selfishness: from their point of view, the introverts are taking out loans against jointly-held wealth, to invest unilaterally in risky ventures. Introverts in turn accuse extroverts of being overly possessive and stifling, since they cannot draw on the energy of the relationship without the other party being present. The confusion is simple if you note that the introvert is thinking in terms of two individually held bank accounts, while the extrovert is thinking in terms of a single jointly held one.

The tension between introverts and extroverts is most visible in the loose, non-clinical mental health diagnoses they make up for each other as insults. Introverts are likely to accuse extroverts of codependency. Extroverts are likely to accuse introverts of Asperger’s syndrome. I only recently learned about the slang term extroverts have for introverts: aspie. Introverts don’t have an equivalent short slang term for codependency that I know of (probably because by definition they don’t gossip enough to require such shorthand). So let’s simply make one up for the purpose of symmetry: codie.

I’ve met people suffering from clinical versions of both co-dependency and Asperger’s, so I know that most of the aspie/codie accusations flying around are baseless.

Lately I’ve seen a lot more aspie accusations flying around than codie accusations. This is perhaps partly due to Asperger’s becoming an aspirational disease in places like Silicon Valley (along with dyslexia), due to a presumed correlation with startup success, but I believe there is more to it.  Recent shifts in the social landscape have made introversion far more visible. This is among the many cracks in E-I relationships that I mentioned earlier. There are seismic shifts going on in social psychology. We may see a re-organization of social geography comparable to the great racial and socio-economic sortings created by the flight to suburbia and exurbia at the peak of the urban sprawl era.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Well this certainly explains why business networking events typically yield zero new business for me. The extroverts are all investing in their joint business accounts in a noisy huddle at the center of the room, while I, a rather extreme introvert, am depleting my own account just to make it through. I’ve had much more success building business relationships meeting one-on-one in coffee shops (that are open).

    • Hi Paula,

      Use the Internet to seek out other Introverts interested in what you are working on instead. StumbleUpon can be useful for identifying experts by field as can LinkedIn while Twitter or even Google+ are better for connecting with people who are hard to reach otherwise.

      I have an alternative theory about why some Introverts – and especially INTPs or INTJs – prefer to use the Internet. We can find each other online much more efficiently than would ever likely happen offline. There are usually few if any people in our immediate geographic vicinity that make for suitable relationships. Online others like us are easy to spot and connect with and most of us have no burning desire to have to meet in person.

  2. You know until I read this, I never connected my love of coffee shops with my introversion. I knew it had something to do with the “atmosphere” of the place but I could never put my finger on it.

  3. Sedicious says

    Your model is interesting, but it seems to me incomplete so far, because it doesn’t explain how E-I can be a continuum with many people in the center of it.

    • I think people near the middle of the spectrum are actually there on average. In given situations they may act more E or I depending on their mood. Even extreme E’s and I’s may go to the other end of the spectrum on rare occasions. That’s my theory at least.

      • I think you are correct. Extroverts and Introverts can go to the other end of the spectrum on occasions. And they are not rare as you think. It depends a lot on the context in which they find themselves at a given time.

        For example, I am mainly an Extrovert and I tend to exhibit E behaviors especially at work, where I have lots of teams and projects to manage. Being an E at work benefits not only myself and my career but also my project teams. Being an E as a project manager, able to build and maintain close relationships with many project “stakeholders” and influencers, is extremely valuable.

        Many of my friends are Introverts. With them I tend to be more of an I, using many of their behaviors to build rapport and dialogue. It’s like I temper my E tendencies, to get closer to them and actually have a relationship.

        When I am meeting lots of new people (especially at big public events) I tend to exhibit mostly Introvert behaviors. I am the quiet, silent, type, mostly listening and letting other people talk. However, if I am at an event which puts me in the spotlight (examples: giving speech or a training session to a room filled with people) I am always an E, even though many of those people are unfamiliar to me.

        • This is interesting. I am an introvert and I tend to make and have mostly extroverted friends. This is purely unconscious. When I am with them I tend to be more extroverted. Generally I have observed that when I like a person or enjoy his/her company I become more extroverted.

  4. This reminds me of a story about color blindness.

    An interesting thing about color blindness is because people that have it literally see light differently, they can see patterns that may be invisible to people with normal vision. In World War II, teams that had at least one colorblind member were able to extract more information from aerial photos than other teams.

    Color blindness is a sex-linked trait, occurring almost only in men. The base rate is around 5-8% for red-green colorblindness, so a group of 12-20 men will have one colorblind person in it. This is approximately the size of a prehistoric hunting party.

    It strikes me that there’s probably a balance between extroverts and introverts in any social group that needs to be struck in order to solve problems most efficiently, and that the base-rates of introversion/extroversion probably reflect this balance. A quick googling reveals that around 20-30% of people are introverts, compared to 70-80% extroverts.

    Introversion probably buys you a sort of reflective, dedicated focus to a problem (ie: thinking hard about something). Extroversion probably buys you a sort of back-and-forth brainstorming on a problem. My guess is, most of the problem-solving work gets done in the back-and-forth switch in perspective you get during brainstorming/conversation, but that the occasional injection of a new idea, result, or inference from the lone thinker is non-trivial. There’s likely other factors at work as well, such as extroverts serving to maintain group coordination and cohesion with introverts serving as some buffer against groupthink or mediator between different groups.

    • The colorblindness thing is fascinating, thanks for pointing that out. Reminds me of the analysis of the Ashkenazi Jewish “genius” gene that is also associated with a disease. The positives outweigh the negatives for that gene. This is like the same thing, except at the group level.

      I agree that the right E/I balance is necessary for a creative group, which is one reason the possibility that there is a sorting going on into “pure” types worries me. Haven’t yet decided if it is true though, or whether I’ve been fooled by anecdotal evidence.

      • In this context, we might want to reconsider what we mean by “sorting” and “group”. The same technologies that allow us to sort ourselves more easily also allow us to join groups without necessarily accepting the same social obligations that might have previously been expected. I have seen the argument floating around that social media disproportionately benefits introverts because it allows them to participate as if they were extroverted without the same level of commitment (which normally acts as a deterrent).

        In other words, we might want to allow for the possibility that functional groups may come to recognize their need for both types and organize themselves differently, with different roles and expectations for different group members.

  5. The bank account- and energy metaphors explain the threesome relationship in Woody Allen’s movie Vicky Christina Barcelona. It is about how a volatile and deep relationship between two extroverted Spanish artists becomes stable when they both enter a relationship with a somewhat introverted American tourist, played by Scarlett Johansson. I didn’t get how it worked, but Allen had be right on the motives, or the movie would not have been a good watch.

    The idea of an introvert investing his or her share elsewhere is the key to that plot. Vicky the tourist takes out energy out of the relationship between the artists, which is thus prevented from becoming so deep that the flashes of murderous enmity destroy the artists.

    Vicky takes massive returns out of the bank account, and when those returns start to diminish, she leaves. At that point, one of the temperamental artists, Maria Elena whom is played by Penélope Cruz, accuses Vicky of “using them”, casting her as thief. But it was her role as lightning rod that made their brief happiness possible in the first place.

    PS: The term “codie” reminds me of Cody, the drooling dog that Garfield likes to torture.

    • Perfect example :) Yes, E’s can feel “used” by I’s.

      • I disagree with the notion that I’s extract from interactions as is being described here. My experience is that the more “E” a person is, the more that person wishes to extract from ME, an “I.” My complaint has been that E’s tend to immediately probe me with what feels like an interrogation disguised as conversation–without first indicating/negotiating how that information is to be used. I feel that E’s need to pigeonhole me on superficial bases so they can decide if I’m worth speaking to, or else simply cannot make conversation.

        It seems that E’s, when presenting me with a piece of personal information they feel has value, expect me to ante up in kind. Usually what they tell me about themselves I really didn’t want to know in the first place, and I’m not necessarily willing to offer similar personal information about myself.

        The crux of the problem is not so much that I’s value their privacy more (though they probably do), it’s the relative superficiality of the exchange. An “I” is not comfortable tossing around his/her personal self until a level of trust is established. Between two I’s meeting as strangers, that can happen within a few sentences, even before the first word is uttered. What is sensed is a deeper level of thought, where meaning is important. I’s not only deplore triviality, they need to ignore it, because triviality is actually much harder to process when one is accustomed to looking for the meaningful in everything.

        While E’s might feel that I’s walk away without contributing their share, that perception is erroneous. It is based on the assumption that the “E” has provided the “I” with something of value. For E’s that know how to listen and value thoughtful exchanges, they will open themselves to reservoirs of what the “I” values.

    • Allen K. says

      (Odie, not Cody)

  6. This post misses the point that an introvert IRL can be an e-social butterfly. I am living proof and I have met many lovely, interesting people (through forums and such) whose real personalities were remarkably gruff. And I don’t think they were consciously faking anything. Online, you can control what demands you will allow on your time/consciousness so introverts are more generous and open than they would be IRL. I also think that real life socializing is dying off rapidly as online fascinations/facebook eat everybody’s leisure time up, so extroverts are slowly going crazy.

    • Introverted e-social butterflies more easily allow for interactions where there are few expectations to “keep in touch”, unless you really wanted to. Both E and I can be e-social butterflies, except that Es may expect something different each time they fire off a message to a mailing list or leave comments on blogs.

      The idea that extroverts prefer not to interact with people unless they were introduced via their existing social circle will clearly not always hold, but is more of a preference. The example of the conference gathering or business networking event by Paul above is a good example where extroverts are temporarily outside of their comfort zones not knowing everybody as well as they’d like to, but rectifying this situation as quickly as possible by huddling.

    • I don’t think so. It was true in the 90s/early 00s, but with mobile internet on the rise, the E’s are managing to have their cake and eat it too. I see more frenetic huddling going on than ever. YMMV.

      e-social… I don’t know how seriously to take that. In some ways it’s like acting. I used to do a lot of amateur theater in college, and I could easily act extrovert, without being one.

      • I think it goes back to the relative superficiality/triviality I wrote about above. Each new iteration of e-social forums seems to become ever more superficial (not to mention narcissistic). This “I” gave Facebook a real try last summer. I lasted 6 weeks. Its superficiality, baring yourself to any and all, and high-school feel creeped me out too much. The one before that, MySpace, seemed to be less so. Now Twitter . . .

  7. Your observation about 1:1 relationships handling is very enlightening.

  8. Right when it gets really interesting because it feels like you are moving towards some sort of conclusion / making some point, the article simply ends. “Recent shifts in the social landscape have made introversion far more visible. [THE END]” Pity.

    • This post was actually 2x as long, and the second part was all about sorting and the sociology end of things. I couldn’t get the arguments straightened out in time though, so I decided to post what I had.

      Maybe I should flag this as Part I of a 2 parter, but every time I do that, I get ADD and it becomes harder to actually write the second part.

  9. So many good insights in this post that I had to start writing the comment before finishing reading the article :D

    This is a topic I’ve thought about quite a bit, usually musing on the different definitions of introversion/extroversion, and where I fall on the bell curve. (And please everyone remember that it *is* a continous distribution, not an either/or thing)

    I’ve long thought of myself as leaning I, but have tried to become more E after realising that those guys tend to have more success (and fun). Then I found I was quite good at certain stereotypically extroverted behaviours, which made me confused. Had I really been an in-the-closet extrovert all along?

    “Yet, I find that I am far more capable of talking with random strangers than most extroverts.”

    This describes me perfectly, and was the ‘aha!’ moment for me that helped me fix myself firmly on the left slope of the bell curve.

    I’ve trained myself to enjoy meeting new people; it’s exciting knowing that you don’t know where the relationship will end up. Probably it’ll go nowhere, but maybe it could be the dramatic entry of a major new character in your life. (I’ve started keeping an online journal at OhMyLife.com, and one thing I make sure to record every day are any new people I meet). In addition, first meetings are often quite similar, which means you can think tactically and experiment with different ‘opening gambits’.

    Meetings with acquaintances I find to be much more stressful… I often feel like I’m misgauging the relationship, either acting too friendly or too distant. Of course, like most introverts I feel comfortable around close friends who have ‘crossed the chasm’.

    This also explains for me the converse situation, where people I’d flagged as extroverted seemed really timid about going to some social event without a gaggle of their existing friends.

    “This means introverts can enjoy interactions while they are happening, without missing the relationships much when they are inactive. In fact, the relationship doesn’t really exist when it is inactive.”

    This a frequent complaint I receive from a very dear extrovert in my life ;) Sending updates about the minutae of my day-to-day life (and requesting said updates from the other party) just doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’ve realised that it’s best not to be too precious about one’s own personality traits, and that sometimes you have to be considerate of your clingy extroverted companions, just as they take care of their aloof introvert friends.

    Some other thoughts:
    – I know the Big5 personality model was based on Principal Component Analysis, but does anyone know which and how many input features are used to determine “introversion-extroversion”? Methinks there may be both introverts and extroverts that enjoy working in coffee-shop-like environments with a slight background social buzz, and some introverts and extroverts that don’t.

    – Instant messaging, IRC and chatrooms have often felt like social outlets for introverts to me – is it just me?

    • Isaac Lewis says

      Sorry for long comment! Had it not looked shorter in my text editor, I would have trimmed out a few of my ramblings…

    • For a second, I thought you said that you kept track of new people you met using a service called OhMyLife.com. I imagined something with a nice timeline with who you met when (and maybe how and where) and links to their Facebook/LinkedIn profiles. Maybe a stats box with how many people you’ve met this week, month and year.

      I was a bit disappointed when I reread what you wrote and realized that such a service does not exist.

  10. I’m not sure about point 7 for Introverts.

    All the tests and other triangulations put me pretty firmly on the I side of the spectrum – but I do tend to have one non-depth limited relationship going, much of the time. That relationship is for me typically connected to romance, but that may not be the general pattern. What does seem general to me is that most Introverts find some stability (eventually) in having one deep relationship alongside all the other limited ones.

  11. Semon Rezchikov says

    Interesting model.

    I’ve generally characterized myself, and been characterized as, an introvert. I can relate to many of the criteria you mentioned. However, I find it interesting that you add “no soul-baring” and “have depth-limited relationships that reach their maximum depth very fast” on the introvert side. I’ve always thought that introverts are the ones that prefer a few deep relationships with people just as they prefer 1:1 interactions, while extroverts prefer many less-deep relationships, just as they prefer group interactions. You might be using the concept of “relationship depth” in a way different from how I understand it

  12. I’m not certain it’s historically unprecedented.

    You could make a case that those least open to experience had a special role in solidifying the new modes of activity necessary for the agricultural revolution, as well as the industrial revolution.

    Neuroticism seems to have played a special role in the Reformation.

    I think feudalism divides people according to agreeableness. Your Gervais Principle essays suggest that corporatism does, too.

    Lastly, I think a burgeoning republic or a meritocracy (until test-preparation services make merit difficult to ascertain, as for the civil service exams of imperial China) turns conscientiousness from a psychological to a sociological variable.

  13. I propose “pendie” instead, as “codie” sounds too much like “codey” which I’ve heard being used to describe people who like to code. More to the point, going by the syllables, “co de pend ent” saying pendie uses two of the syllables from the word,and focuses on the most relevent part of the phrase, “depend” rather than the prefix.

    • I don’t like “codie” either because of the connection to coding (which is what I thought it referred to when I saw the title). Unfortunately, I don’t think “pendie” is any better :-( I bet the term we’re looking for already exists and is hiding somewhere on UrbanDictionary.com.

      • Aspies describe codies as “clingy” (see the third to last paragraph of Isaac Lewis’s comment above), but “clinger” makes for a unsatisfying slash term.

  14. I am in agreement with the several other commenters above who are expressing doubts about points 3 & 7. I suspect the disagreement stems from the ambiguity of “depth”. I would say that I am very open to deep relationships and and often enjoy “soul-bearing” as that gets us to the really interesting and meaningful stuff. However, when you use “depth” you are likely referring less to the content exchanged and more to the degree of attachment. In that sense I absolutely agree with you.

    I would frame this in terms of willingness to accept social obligation. An extrovert is likely to be influenced by the old “After all the things I’ve done for you…” line. The introvert is much less likely to accept any indebtedness and therefore is avoidant of “deep attachment”.

    Last thought…I would agree that introverts avoid deep relationships with extroverts for exactly the reasons above. Two introverts however can have a very deep relationship because both can open up freely without fear of deep attachment.

    • Yes, I do mean “degree of attachment.”

      To some extent it is also “content exchanged.” Often introverts don’t HAVE the content to exchange. Extroverts often have very detailed and careful opinions (and feelings) about people and love to discuss those opinions. A lot of the soul-baring stuff involves sharing opinions about mutual acquaintances (this is part of what creates the deeper bonding, the sharing of secrets about a third party, that makes both parties sort of complicit in a conspiracy against the third).

      Introverts often don’t HAVE such detailed opinions of others, and only make up such opinions if the third parties in question actually matter to them. This can come across as shallowness to extroverts. When the third parties DO matter, introverts are often reluctant to share their opinions, and end up being very diplomatic, since they realize the risk involved in sharing.

      • I find it interesting that you are thinking about depth of sharing as primarily a matter of sharing information about others. That seems to me a very extroverted notion ;) I would think that for most introverts depth is matter of sharing information about themselves, their ideas, values, work, etc.

        Perhaps we need to define two different concepts of depth. For the extrovert depth is a matter of the volume of content shared and the relative scarcity of that content (i.e. the depth of the conspiracy you describe). For the introvert depth is a matter of the depth of thinking revealed…the degree to which the introvert allows another access to his/her most private or experimental thoughts (and thought processes)…the degree to which the introvert reveals to another the way in which his/her mind works.

      • “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”
        —Eleanor Roosevelt

      • Is it important that the “content exchanged” be opinions about others and not merely facts about others? As an introvert, the idea of having detailed opinions about others does seem foreign, but I often find myself seeking out extensive facts (including less readily-available, private information) about those I associate with.

        Is gossip not so much about obtaining private information, but about judging others based on that information?

    • With respect to Venkat’s “microeconomic” analogy, maybe “attachments” are like implicit contracts. Maybe I’s, probably to some extent erroneously, simply don’t recognize such contracts. I can see how we I’s would appear selfish!

      Also, it seems that the thinking/feeling and independent/dependent dichotomies are also at work in the traits we have been discussing–that we have been loading the E and the I with traits that are independent of being E or I.

  15. How could one test your hypothesis? It’s interesting but at this point it is purely social fiction to me.

  16. I like the microeconomic analogy, but calling it a “joint account” seems wrong. My understanding of a joint account, which I believe to be the common one, is that either account holder can withdraw or deposit into the account regardless of whether the other is present. Wikipedia says the same thing (well kind of, the second half of the entry describes something more akin to an escrow account): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_account

  17. Brandon Hudgeons says

    Fantastic post for lots of reasons, but one is the introduction to “aspirational disorder.”

  18. Interesting. I’m not a psychologist, and most of my knowledge of the extrovert/introvert divide comes from various second hand online sources and business books (which are psychology-lite at best). However, just recently I’ve read a bit from the guy who (I believe) started it all – Jung. And let me tell you, the 50ish pages he wrote about the 8 personality types (in his system, 4 extrovert and 4 introvert, depending on the primary function – i.e. thinking-feeling, intuition-sensing) are definitely the best resource on the topic that I’ve found.

    Now I’m sure there’s a reason why more recent work has altered the system, and for all I know there could be parts of his work which are considered outdated and proven wrong… But the descriptions he provides are first grade material. So, if you’re not already familiar with them, maybe you could squeeze some space in your busy reading schedule :)

    For example, the non-clinical “aspie” description is mostly covered as the Introverted Thinking type. Since the conscious spends most time in rational thinking focused on the subject / self, the sub-conscious compensates by doing the opposite – extroverted (focused on the object) feeling. Since sub-conscious feelings are undeveloped (in Jung’s words, archaic), they are often dark and primitive. So while the person is consciously rational and quite distanced from the object (e.g. other people), they are often surprised by the “unexplainable” primitive feelings the object is capable of causing within them. To “fix” it, they try to distance themselves from the object even more (going deeper in their internal/introverted system), and to be even more rational. Of course, the compensatory sub-conscious also amplifies it’s efforts. In the end, to the person, the object in question seems to have almost magical powers to cause inappropriate feelings, and they can develop a quite irrational fear of it – e.g. male “aspie” geeks’ fear of women ;)

    The “codie/clingy” description could equivalently be found in the Extroverted Feeling type. The person consciously lowers the value of the subject/self, and focuses on the object. Since their primary function is feeling, that focus manifests in the feelings the object causes within them. Thus, with those people, feelings require an external object (even if they are obviously caused by the subject themselves) – and when the object is absent (e.g. such a person is alone), they are unable to engage in their primary conscious activity. The example Jung gives are women who marry man of obvious good standing – but he doesn’t consider them gold-diggers: he claims that their feelings are genuine, but due to their primary mindset require an external/visible/confirmed-by-other-people-and-thus-objective cause/excuse/validation. Again, the sub-conscious seeks balance by doing the opposite from the conscious: introverted archaic thinking. Since thinking is the least developed function (being the opposite of the primary feeling), it is often dark and primitive, e.g. manifesting in the person having dark/jealous suspicions about the object – which they try to alleviate by spending more time around the other person to justify their conscious feelings. And of course, the sub-conscious opposing effort only causes their doubts to manifest even stronger when the object (other person) is absent :)

    The descriptions of the other 6 types are as fascinating as well… Apologies to Jung if I got anything wrong after only a single reading.

  19. No one has brought it up yet, so I will. Your E/I categories are part of the larger Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). People tend to identify strongly with their specific type because it seems to describe them (it’s all about them) both accurately and nonjudgmentally. Human personality is about as complex a phenomenon as exists, so the sixteen permutations of MBTI are better as describing whole people. Your blog discusses only one of the four MBTI continua.

    Your assessment that the social milieu is changing radically due to technological redrawing of the landscape is the seed of something worthwhile, but since we’re in the midst of it, I don’t know that anything can be stated too concretely just yet. Still, your conjecture could be interesting.

  20. Brutus: I assumed everybody here is familiar with the MBTI.

    Brandon: can’t take credit for ‘aspirational disorder’… Heard it on Quora.

    Patrick: yeah, the joint account thing isn’t quite right. Need a ++ version.

    William: no I have not read Jung in the original. Probably should before I go further out on this limb.

    Kay: not sure how to test, so just a thought-starter speculative model at the moment. Would take money and a clinical psych expert to dig deeper beyond my pop psych level I guess.

  21. John the Savage says

    I would say what some others have said about I’s not being worse at soul-baring. As an I, I have much fewer close relationships, but I know some E’s who will come to me and bare their soul to me because they know I’m quiet and thoughtful and will listen to them and will not gossip, and will not make jokes or be anything but serious. And because they’re discussing serious matters with me, I respect them and talk about my deep feelings too, the things that I keep hidden in day-to-day interaction because they’re too personal or unimportant or because sharing them would normally do no-one any good. Relationships with E’s are not always full of tensions.

    Another comment: I don’t think most of the people talking here really know what “Aspie” means. I don’t know if it’s been used as an insult, but the way I’ve come across it has always been as an autistic pride word, used by people diagnosed or identifying as Asperger’s Syndrome. Particularly the Neurodiversity movement, which believes that autism and related “disorders” are legitimate human differences instead of things to be “cured”. For example, Aspies for Freedom.

    • I’ve come across aspie as both a self-applied pride label as well as an insult ranging in seriousness from affectionate ribbing to extreme contempt.

      • Best way to get a name for the other side of the spectrum would probably be to look for self-depricating self-identification then!

  22. I meant to link this classic Atlantic article in the post, but forgot.

    Caring for your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch.

  23. Leonardo C says

    There’s a recent thesis that actually proposes that introvertion is at the far end of the autism spectrum, therefore extrovertion and introvertion wouldn’t be opposites on a scale but unrelated traits altogether. I first read about it here:

    The thesis per se, by Jennifer Grimes: http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0003090/Grimes_Jennifer_O_201005_MA.pdf

    • Leonardo H says

      But I’m not saying I agree or disagree with my aforementioned links. Most people would consider me an introvert these days, I personally came to be unable to tell for sure, since feeling introverted or extroverted, weird as it may sound, came to seem(apparently) more a byproduct, an adaptation, of the environment I happen to need to dwell long enough than an distinctly innate trait.

  24. The E/I dimension in isolation is simply not very useful as a tool for understanding people. That is probably the reason MBTI makes it a supporting function and not a primary one.

    For those who are only superficially familiar with the 16 types, I’ll mention that when it really gets interesting is when you actually look at the functions that make those up. For any of the 16 types, introverted or extroverted versions of the Intuition / Sensing and Thinking / Feeling dimensions are the primary functions. For example, an INTP like Venkat would theoretically lead with “Introverted Thinking”, while an INTJ like me would lead with “Introverted Intuition”. Because of this dynamic, I might click more with an ENFP, who leads with “Extraverted Intuition”, than an INTP who shares 3 of the same “macro” dimensions with me and also happens to fall under the “Rational” quadrant.

    There may be extreme cases of people getting drained or energized by ANY human contact, but in my own experience, I find that people tend to be more E or I depending on who the hypothetical others are. People who lead with intuition are much more drained by those who have Sensing as a primary function versus a tertiary one. Someone might be more introverted or extroverted generally, but it always feels fuzzy when you try to use it as a primary and defining trait.

    There is probably a reason why E/I draws so much attention as a point of distinction: It’s pretty easy for anyone to tell who is introverted and who is extroverted in a group. The ease of observation makes it resonate with people, but that does not mean that it’s a very useful dimension.

    You’re right in saying that the vast majority of people have a deep need for human interaction; I’m just saying that the combination of parties matters as much as the frequency or style of the interaction. Who knows? Maybe my opinion comes mostly from a preference for people who don’t exhibit extreme forms of any of these traits.

  25. Amazing analysis. Wow.

    However, what about people who have characteristics of both? I think I’m mostly an introvert, but E3 applies to me.. though it could also be seen as I4!

  26. Very, very interesting stuff.

    I was talking to my ex on the phone when I was reading this article, and it was really funny.

    I’m probably an INTJ (although maybe more an ambivert? I score ENTJ on the MBTI now..) and she’s an extremely extroverted ESFJ, so I resemble the “aspie” in some ways and she resembles the “codie” in others.

    It’s funny how right most of this sounds.

    The only point I’d contend with is, like others have said, the notion that introverts don’t want “deep” relationships. Of course, maybe you were just talking about deep as meaning attachment, which makes sense, but yeah.

    This cleared up a lot of stuff for me. I’ve always wanted to help people, for example, but I don’t really care to get to know a lot of people or even talk to strangers that much. It’s just highly draining.

    If I don’t get much sleep, I can be completely anti-social for an entire day or two until I’m rested again. Of course, if I’m feeling great, I’ll be highly social about 40% of the time, so perhaps I really am an ambivert more than anything.

    Also, whoever posted that theory about the 30-70 split between I and E being evolutionary and leading to proper group functioning and problem solving.. that’s genius. I’m going to remember that one, thanks.

    • “the notion that introverts don’t want “deep” relationships. Of course, maybe you were just talking about deep as meaning attachment…”

      I would have to DISAGREE with you on that statement. As an introverted (INFJ) the only few relationships i have with people are extremely deep. The few friendships that i have made have lasted over 8 years now.

      In my experience with “E”, I’ve notice they seek very mild, aquintence-like relationships with ALOT of people but that, they have a hard time taking the time to establish a deeper more meaningful ones.

      I could be wrong but this is just my oppinion. Great post:)

  27. When potential talent is equal, I’d expect to see that the person who enjoys activity X more to be better at it, because they’ll put in more effort and time. This should be especially so for a difficult and complicated skill, such as socializing. Why wouldn’t introverts be more socially awkward on average? I’ll grant that they may not always be socially anxious, but that’s as far as I’d go.

  28. I’m not your normal reading demographic, but my husband is. :) Codie is actually a common word used among people who deal with codependency. Folks in the 12-step world use it a lot.

    This is a very interesting read for me. I am not a geek in any normal usage of the world. I have lived in Silicon Valley since I was 12 and I have pretty much entirely dated computer geeks. I have zero interest in learning anything about computers beyond what I need to know for my few web-based activities. :) I have in fact fended off this knowledge at the point of a sword as everyone I’ve dated has tried to beat it into my head.

    But I have moved further and further in the direction of being introverted over the years as a way of dealing with extreme childhood abuse. It’s interesting for me to read your checklists because I can clearly see where my natural inclinations are and they are not where I am any more because they have been flat out dangerous for me. That’s interesting to look at. It’s not something that I expect you to write about more, but I think I might.

    I would also love if you would follow up on this idea. I find that overall your writing is really interesting, but not finished. It’s like you get 57 awesome ideas and you are pretty sure they are all under one umbrella but you don’t know what color the umbrella is. I used to be an English teacher so sometimes I give small shrieks when you aren’t following up on the idea I want you to follow up on. :) Damn control freaks.

  29. A comment from an “I”:
    I think as a younger person I expected friendships to be based solely on having things in common: depth of friendship = correlation of interests and abilities. Now I find that my friendships with people who aren’t all that much like me have nevertheless become stronger with time. And I was *surprised* by this – it went against my “I” model of what interaction with other people is about.

    I thought the most interesting line in the blog was: “rapid changes in social psychology going on around us might be caused by the drastic changes in how E/I dispositions manifest themselves in the new (online+offline) sociological environment.” – I’d like to see a full post on that topic.

  30. This strikes a cord with me, as only last week I was thinking through my friendships with different people, and realised that some of the hanging out I was enjoying with people was because of the buzz that we had, the feeling of activity and continuity.

    Perhaps introvert people take value from the symbolic content of interactions, and extrovert people from the frequency and diversity of those interactions. Introverts connect, extroverts get in sync.

    What I’m actually talking about is being in the know, or rather up to date with the shifting rhythms of another person(or group)’s life; the enemy is impedance (change muffling/rhythm sapping). The extrovert will ask you if you’re having a good day, and mean it.

    If I try to put introverted stuff into the same form, it would be about getting to the bottom of stuff, knowing how the other person(or group) thinks. The enemy is banality (unillustrative/superficial). The introvert will ask you what you think about something, and mean it.

    I came to this model by considering what on earth “getting energy” actually meant. I decided it meant getting the basic social raw materials for your cognitive processes. What you need from people to operate in the world.

    Without big ideas, or an idea of what’s going on, without people you can trust, or who you can keep track of, it’s a lot harder to live, and you have to spend a lot more time making yourself feel at home.

    On the other hand, if this is true, then you might still be having “I” style friendships with people, it’s just that you’ve got better at connecting with people; by finding more broad and abstract common ground, or by trying to understand what the other person sees in what interests them.

    • Note, that last section is a reply to Betty above, I half-converted this from a specific reply.

  31. From this thoughtful post I gather that you might enjoy the recent book about the overlooked benefits of shyness, Quiet

  32. Your model is compelling, still very rough. Introverts (at least some of us) most certainly crave 1-1 soul baring relationships – we have few, but very close friends who “understand” us and vice versa and upon whom we mutually depend – but these relationships can be maintained with relatively little interaction – though the mutual relationship is still in tact – and can remain so over a long period of time. As an introvert, your description of extroverts resonates, but your defining characteristics of introverts may be too rigid.

  33. I think you meant ‘Introverts (I’s) and extroverts (E’s)’ when you wrote ‘Introverts (E’s) and extroverts (I’s) ‘ in the last section

  34. Where the group disagrees about the “depth” issue might be a place where our T/F comes in. My experience Introverted Thinking tends toward the cool, almost casual interaction and business-like behavior. Introverted Feeling, on the other hand often has several deep relationships ongoing.
    Also, re family gatherings being draining – depends on if you’re the only introvert in the huddle–YUK. As an IT member of a mostly introverted family, the gatherings generally aren’t all that bad. It is nice though to have an FE here and there to remember NOT to sit aunt Clara by cousin bill… since we ITs tend to respond with a “grow up” rather than sympathy for the conflict. I seldom experience it as all that draining.
    Now if you want something that totally kills me it’s the after work drinks and snacks with Extraverted project teams that have no common interests outside the project. HELP!

  35. I recently read your Gervais Principle series, and a lot of the Slightly Evil stuff, so I was wondering how introversion/extroversion relates to the Loser/Clueless/Sociopath hierarchy. Extroverted deposits into a “joint account” of energy sounds a lot like Loser groups building cohesion through gametalk.

    An introvert making personal withdrawal from an extroverted joint account sounds sociopathic. Perhaps extroverted interaction drives introverts to become sociopaths: drain or be drained. Are there extroverted sociopaths? It seems that they would only drain themselves.

    A Clueless might be someone who acts relatively introverted with respect to their fellow employees, but has an extroverted “joint account” with the organization at large.

    This is all theory for me, as I’m not yet very good at spotting cluelessness and sociopathy in the wild, and I’m usually too far in the introvert direction to really “get” extroversion.

    • I think that mimicry breeds empathy (and perhaps vice versa), the key requirement for authentic participation in loser groups. However, perhaps many Sociopaths learn to mimic successfully and appear extroverted without getting emotionally ensnared into some “joint account.”

  36. Maybe I’m a little late but I stumbled across this post and as someone who does research in personality psychology it somehow bothers me that you’re using “Extroverts” refering to people with high scores on extrAversion.
    And in the Big 5 Model of personality, extraversion (/introversion) is divided into factors (Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity, Excitement-Seeking, Positive Emotions), which is actually not a coarse approach at all.