Ask a bunch of people on the street what the term "introverted" means and you'll probably get a bunch of different answers. One person might mention social anxiety, another a dreamy personality, a third a preference for small groups over large.
Apparently, this confusion about just what it means to be an introvert isn't limited to laypeople. Even experts can't agree on the meaning of the term. Here are some of the definitions authors have offered, as recently rounded up by Scott Barry Kaufman on the Scientific American blog.
What's going on here? One explanation could be that experts really need to get their act together and decide on a definition. But there's another possibility. Maybe the problem isn't that there are multiple definitions, but instead that we mistakenly expect there to be only one. Maybe the fact that there are so many definitions of introversion just reflects that fact that there are multiple types of introverts.
That's the argument of a recent paper highlighted on New York magazine's Science of Us blog. The research by Wellesley psychologist Jonathan Cheek and his graduate students Jennifer Grimes and Courtney Brown quizzed 500 adults about their personalities. The findings, they argue, reveal that there isn't one kind of introversion, there are four flavors. They gave these types the handy mnemonic STAR for social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. An individual can be strongly one or a mixture of several. Here's a basic rundown of each:
This type of introvert isn't shy in the traditional sense. Social events don't give these folks anxiety. It's just that they prefer to socialize in small groups rather than large ones and sometimes to opt for not socializing at all. This choice isn't about fear, but is simply a clear personal preference for the intimate and quiet.
Sometimes an introvert isn't driven by their preferences around other people at all--they're neither shy nor particularly averse to groups. These folks simply come across as reserved and unsocial sometimes because they're often lost in their own thoughts. If this is you, "you're capable of getting lost in an internal fantasy world, but it's not in a neurotic way, it's in an imaginative and creative way," Cheek explained to Science of Us.
This type of introvert conforms to common stereotypes of the quiet person--they're withdrawn and quiet because other people make them nervous. "Unlike social introverts, anxious introverts may seek out solitude because they feel awkward and painfully self-conscious around other people, because they're not very confident in their own social skills," Science of Us explains.
Rather than being anxious, imaginative, or most at home in small groups, this final kind of introvert is simply slow moving. They take a while to get going and need to be deliberate in their actions--they always think before they speak. In an extroverted world, this appears much the same as the other types of introversion, though it's root causes are quite different.
If you're an introvert and curious to find out which category you fall into, Science of Us offers a short quiz to help you find out. Take it to determine your type.
What type of introvert are you? Let us know in the comments.