The Gifted Introvert

By Lesley Sword, Gifted and Creative Services Australia

Western civilisation today is dominated by the extravert viewpoint.  This is because extraverts outnumber introverts 3 to 1, are more vocal than introverts and are more understandable than introverts.

[NOTE: the ratio is more like 50/50 – see section at bottom: The prevalence of introversion.]

However, while introverts are a minority group in society, they form the majority of gifted people. Moreover, it appears that introversion increases with intelligence so that more than 75% of people with an IQ above 160 are introverted.

Introversion and extraversion are personality types: two complementary ways of operating in the world. People have both introversion and extraversion in their personalities  and so are not limited either to the inner world or the outer world.

“I think I’m a weird combination of deeply introverted and very daring. I can feel both those things working.”Actor, director, writer Helen Hunt

– From post: The Creative Personality: Both Extroverted and Introverted

But they have a natural preference for either introversion or extraversion rather like a preference for right or left handedness. For example some of you reading this can’t wait to get to the practical applications: you are looking at it from the extravert’s standpoint.

Other readers are more interested in the insights that will help them understand themselves and human nature in general: you are seeing it from the introvert point of view.

Essential Differences Between Introverts And Extraverts


[Silverman 1993]

The extravert’s main interests are with the outer world of people and things while the introvert is more involved in the inner world of concepts and ideas. People show a preference for the world in which they operate best, their inner world or the outer world.

The preference can be slight or quite marked. This ordinary human behaviour can not be labelled right or wrong, nor can one way be judged better or worse than the other.

The main difference between introverts and extraverts is the source of their energy. Extraverts get energy from people and objects outside themselves whereas introverts gain energy from within themselves.

Extraverts will tell you that not only do they get energy from outer world interaction, they find it demanding or draining to be thrown back on their own inner world too much.

Introverts will tell you how demanding and draining it can be to be continuously exposed to the outer world e.g. see how long introverts can last at a bright, sociable party: they can summon up goodwill for a while but soon begin to wilt and can usually then be found sitting quietly on their own.

Shyness and introversion may seem to be the same in some ways, at least on the surface. They can overlap, and we may have both traits – but they are not the same thing.From article: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?

A second major difference is that extraverts have a single layered personality; they tend to be the same in public and in private whereas introverts have a public self and a private self.

Introversion is a way of operating in which a person is more comfortable in their own inner world and draws strength from it. Well developed introverts can deal competently with the world around them when necessary, but they do their best work inside their heads, in reflection.

Similarly, well developed extraverts can deal effectively with ideas, but they do their best work externally in action.

The introverted attitude is one of caution, reserve and reflection. For introverts, meaning comes from within and anchors their sense of reality. In contrast the extraverted attitude is one of immediate response, adaptability and involvement.

For extraverts, meaning comes from outside and is reinforced by engagement in activities, relationships and events. The anchor for their sense of reality is external and their sense of vitality is directly proportional to their participation in the outer world.

Because of their focus on their inner world, introverts tend not to learn by trial and error. They understand through observation and prefer not to act or respond without thoughtful consideration. Introverts will take in information and perhaps ask a few clarifying questions.

They will not frequently interrupt with the questions and comments that most extraverts are prone to do.  Introverts need time “to digest” information before responding to it. They characteristically pause before action.

This pause, often called hesitation by others, gives them time to study and classify a new situation so the action taken will make sense in the long run.

“I’m not the girl at the club on the table. I’m going to be the one in the corner, quiet and so I don’t call attention to myself.” //“I was the girl who cut school to go to the park, and the other kids would be smoking and drinking and I’d be reading Shakespeare.”

From post: Jessica Chastain and High Sensitivity, Crying and Creative People

Introverts prefer to work with people individually rather than in large groups. They are likely to go deeply into their work and are reluctant to call it finished. When they do display their work they tend to give only their conclusions, without details of what they did.

They need time to reflect, time to ponder possible solutions to problems and time to let emotions settle down before they can talk about them.

Tensions can develop when the introvert is in the minority in a group such as the classroom, where the prevailing climate is established/controlled by the predominant extraverts. If too much togetherness with others is demanded, the development of ideas is inhibited.

Also, introverts need time to reflect on a question before answering and, in an analysis of taped classroom discussion, it was found that teachers tend to wait less than one second for students to reply to their questions. (Rowe, 1974 cited in VanTassel – Baska, 1998)

In the general population there are approximately 3 extraverts to every 1 introvert.  This can lead to the assumption that extraversion is better: an assumption that can be an obstacle to the development of introverts.

Introverts need to be very sceptical of the assumption that infrequency or difference is inferiority. If they do not have a healthy scepticism, they will not trust and exercise their introversion and so it will not be developed enough to be beneficial in life.

The ablest introverts use their extroversion well but they never try to be extraverts. They learn to deal competently with the outer world without placing too much importance on it. They value their own way of being and derive an unshakeable orientation to life from it.

Introverts have an inherent continuity in themselves, an independence of the momentary outward situation.  Outer conditions and situations vary continually but the inner self is far more constant.

As their focus is on the inside, introverts often seem detached from outside events. A useful aspect of this detachment is that the absence of encouragement does not affect them very much. If they believe in what they are doing they can work happily for a long time without reassurance.

Such behaviour does not make sense to most extraverts who are only sure whether or not their work is good when they know what other people think of it.

Extroverts direct most of their energy and attention towards the outer world. They understand the world through acting and reacting to it; they need to externalise things in order to understand them. They tend to learn by trial and error and generally like a faster pace than introverts.

Extraverts also tend to like work involving multiple contacts with people and face to face, fast paced activities.

Introverts focus on the inner world. They understand the world through careful contemplation and prefer not to act or respond without thoughtful consideration. Introverts will take in information and perhaps ask a few clarifying questions.

They will not frequently interrupt with questions and comments as most extraverts are prone to do.  Introverts need time “to digest” information before responding to it. Usually introverts appreciate some time to consider information before being asked questions or  before the personal relevance of the information is discussed.

It seems easier to overload an introvert with too much information than an extravert. Introverts may prefer a slower paced discussion and care should be taken to solicit feedback from highly introverted person to make sure information has been understood.

Introverts generally chose work where they can function independently or one-on-one, with enough time for careful reflection before acting. Extraverts prefer a high level of social interaction with a wide variety of people.

They tend to have many friends and acquaintances.  Introverts are just as capable as extraverts of enjoying friendships and working with people, although they tend to chose their friends more carefully and they prefer to work with people individually rather than in large groups.

Introverts have marvellous powers of concentration and are able to ignore many of the distractions in the outside world.  Introverts are likely to go deeply into their work and are reluctant to call it finished. When they do display their work they tend to give only their conclusions, without details of what they did.

This brief communication saves them from potentially overwhelming external demands on their time and energy and allows them to return quickly to another uninterrupted stretch of work.

Introverts’ energies are powerfully directed by their ideas. They characteristically pause before action. This pause, often called hesitation by others, gives them time to study and classify a new situation so the action taken will make sense in the long run.

Author Susan Cain notes Bill Gates is an introvert, but not shy, and Barbra Streisand, who famously suffers from stage fright, is a shy extrovert.Cain notes, “Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.”

From post: Creative Introverts

Extraverts solve their problems by talking about them to other people. This is part of the externalisation of their thought processes. They sort their thoughts through verbalising them. Introverts, on the other hand, rarely talk to others about their problems.

They  go over and over them in their minds; often until they feel they are about to explode.  If they are finally driven to seek advice that is exactly what they want: advice. They don’t want to talk about it or think about it any more;  they just want solutions.

Introverts read more than extraverts partly because it is a socially acceptable way of gaining some needed time alone. Introverts need time to reflect, time to let emotions settle down  before they can talk about them, time to ponder possible solutions to problems.

If you need to discuss an issue with an introvert, raise the matter and then  postpone discussion for at least 24 hours to let the introvert have time to think about it.

Family members are likely to have differing preferences for extraversion or introversion. Tensions can develop when the introvert is in the minority in the family; where the prevailing family climate is set by the predominant extraverts.

The introverted daughter or son in a family of extraverts, for example, may learn to be more extroverted to keep up with the rest of the family but also must find time alone, perhaps through reading in his or her room. However, car trips or other situations in which s/he can’t physically get away may remain difficult.

Family members  can learn to appreciate each other’s differences and make needed accommodations. The family can learn to hear their introverted son or daughter’s need, and maybe their own as well, to slow down the pace a little.

Family vacations are often a trying time as they can magnify differences in personality preference.  It is wise to take preferences into account in planning a holiday together so that each member can feel comfortable. In order to develop fully children need both individual and shared leisure interests. One way that children develop their own personalities is to choose freely some leisure interests of their own.

Families that demand too much togetherness don’t allow this development process to occur.

Society, parents and teachers do try to turn introverts into extraverts. However, they need to understand that there are no right or wrong ways of functioning but simply differences. Introversion is perfectly normal and does not need “curing”.

In her book The Happy Introvert, Elizabeth Wagele exclaims that in the movie of the same name, Napoleon Dynamite (at far right) is “an exemplary introvert. He’s not only talented and sweet, but strong and virtuous – a loyal friend, and indeed a hero.”From post “Are Introverts More Creative?” – see link below.

As introversion is a personality type and it is no use waiting for your child to grow out of it or expecting your partner or yourself to change into an extravert. This may be more socially acceptable but it is an impossible task.

Parents need to appreciate personality differences and understand that they lead to differences in points of view.  Using this understanding they can foster communication so that explanations of personality both affirm and challenge their children.

Parents need to provide opportunities for their introverted children to develop and give them peace and privacy.  It is also vital to understand the importance of maintaining their confidentiality.

Introverts have a deep, inherent need for privacy, they get embarrassed easily by either public censure or praise and they need time to consider and reflect.

If parents understand and accept their childrens’ introversion, the children have a spot of firm ground to stand on and a place in which to be themselves. But if children suspect that their parents want them to be different – to go against their introversion – then the children lose trust and confidence in themselves.

When parents are accepting of their childrens’ introversion, their children will be able to learn how to extravert when necessary  because they know that they are always free to be introverts.

Although children are far more vulnerable, even adults can have their faith in their own introversion undermined by the beloved person who does not understand or accept it.

More than anything introverts need respect for their introversion; they need respect from others and to respect and accept themselves.

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Copyright 2002, Lesley Sword.
Properly attributed, this material may be freely reproduced and disseminated.

Lesley Sword        Telephone/fax: 1800 118 115 (freecall)
42 Northwood Road        Email:
Northwood, NSW 2066    Australia

Gifted and Creative Services Australia Pty Ltd.


Photos with quotes and links above, plus the following material, added by Douglas Eby (author of this site).

The prevalence of introversion

In her post Ratio of Introverts, Natalie Jewell notes, “You may have read that Introverts are 25% of the population. This introvert / extrovert ratio…is based on an old estimate from the early 1960′s by Isabel Myers of the Myers-Briggs organization. It was just a personal guess with no real statistical data behind it. She estimated that 25% of the population of the United States were introverts and 75% Extroverts.

“This off the cuff guess has grown a life of it’s own. It’s spread exponentially with the growth of the Internet. That favorite hang out of introverts. Unfortunately the Internet increases the spread of misleading information as much as it does for valuable knowledge.

“The actual ratio based on the first official random sample by the Myers-Briggs organization in 1998 showed Introverts 50.7% and Extroverts 49.3% of the USA.

“Source: Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (1998). MBTI Manual (A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator).

[Jewell re-posted this as Percentage of Introverts.]

In her article The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain writes: “Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts — which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.

“Depending on which study you consult, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts — in other words, one out of every two or three people you know. (Given that the United States is among the most extroverted of nations, the number must be at least as high in other parts of the world.)”

Susan Cain is author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

See my article Creative Thinking and Being Introverted or Highly Sensitive, which includes a video of Cain.

Psychologist Elaine Aron comments that Susan Cain’s book “is actually more about HSPs (highly sensitive people) than social introverts.”

She adds, “Her discussion of ‘introversion’ throughout is almost identical to what has become the standard definition of high sensitivity—deep thinkers, preferring to process slowly, sensitive to stimuli, emotionally reactive, needing time alone, and so forth…”

– From my post Are Introverts More Creative?

Text in photo: “Solitude has its own very strange beauty to it.” Liv Tyler – from my article: Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.

See more articles, books on the page Introversion Resources.

Also see the Highly Sensitive site and Highly Sensitive / Facebook

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  1. […] I recently saw a job posting, where the company purposely exaggerated it’s social advantages and employee culture to make it seem like it was the best company to work for. I see this more and more! They did this by illustrating their employees taking part in activities like glow in the dark laser tag and dressed up in funny costumes while having picnics in the park. Really? Are they serious? This is such a turn off, especially for introverted folks like myself. Many companies try so hard to be hip and “fun” but what they’re actually doing is pointing out they’re preference for extroverted employees and consequentially alienating introverts which makes up  25% of the population. […]

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