Perhaps you are an extrovert, an introvert, or perhaps an 'ambivert'—a mix of the two tendencies?

You're no doubt familiar with these terms. Extroverts are those individuals who crave excitement. They often take chances, and they tend to act on the spur of the moment. They find it hard to motivate themselves to finish tasks, and they may need deadlines to goad themselves into action. Extroverts generally have lots of friends, and they love to party.

Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to avoid excitement and pressure from the outside world. They're more reserved and thoughtful, unwilling to make quick decisions. They prefer quiet environments. Introverts feel most comfortable with a few close friends—some, in fact, actually dread crowds and will avoid large social gatherings at all costs. This kind of aversion to social situations could also however be a sign of social anxiety, for which it might be worthwhile seeking professional help.

It will have been evident from an early age whether you're more of an extrovert or an introvert. Most psychologists agree that this tendency has a genetic basis, and that it's generally consistent throughout an individual's life.

Eysenck claimed that introverts have a more active reticular activation system, so they are by nature already highly stimulated.

Hans Eysenck, the psychologist who worked most to develop this dimension of personality, believed that the difference between introverts and extroverts is determined by the reticular activation system, or RAS. This is the area in our brain that controls our level of arousal. Eysenck claimed that introverts have a more active RAS, so they are by nature already highly stimulated. They don't, therefore, seek further encouragement to feel aroused, and they may even avoid situations where they're put under pressure to meet deadlines or to socialise frequently.

On the other hand, Eysenck believed that extroverts are constitutionally under-stimulated. They have a relatively quiet RAS, so they need to obtain arousal from outside themselves. Extroverts therefore seek the very crowds and deadlines that introverts work so hard to avoid.

You can find out precisely where your own proclivities lie by undergoing a full personality assessment. However, such assessments tend to be expensive and time-consuming. A quicker way to help you decide is to complete one of the many introversion/extroversion questionnaires you can find online.

Given that this aspect of personality is so well ingrained, I believe it's easier to work with your natural inclination than it is to fight against it. Here are my suggestions in two important aspects of daily life—friendships and work--so you can capitalise on, rather than fight against, this important aspect of your personality.


If you're an extrovert, you'll want to spend lots of time with other people, and you're likely to choose others like yourself to accompany you on social outings. That's great in terms of a good time, but there is a danger that you could lose the necessary balance between energy expenditure and rest. It's important, therefore, that you allow yourself regular opportunities to relax. It will also help if you make sure that at least one good friend—or better yet, your partner—is more introverted than you are. That way, your partner can remind you of the need for quiet reflection, and you in turn can encourage them to reach out.

Extroverts should have at least one good friend who is more introverted than them.

Those of you who are more introverted will also value your friendships of course, but you'll be more particular, more likely to consider only a few people to be true friends. That's great in one way, because you'll find it easier to stay in touch with all of them. On the other hand, because there are so few, you may worry that you'll ask too much of any one of them. It's wise, therefore, for you to think in terms of 'levels' of friendship. You can enjoy the company of your few very close friends, but make sure there are some others who matter to you as well and with whom you also stay in touch. As with extroverts, try to make sure that one close friend or your partner is quite unlike you with regard to this dimension. That way, you'll achieve the best balance in both your lives between expending and replenishing your energy.


If you're an extrovert, you'll be happiest in a job that involves lots of teamwork and plenty of social contact—for example, interacting with the public on a daily basis. You're likely to thrive in an open plan office, and you'll need deadlines to help you organise your workload.

If you're an introvert, you'll prefer to have your own space at work, or at least a place where you can retreat to think and be on your own. Projects that require quiet reflection will appeal to you. No one loves a deadline, but introverts find them particularly threatening. You'll feel less stressed, therefore, if you consider imposed deadlines to be 'fall-backs'. Set your own deadlines in advance of those you're given—that way, you'll feel more in control and less exposed to external stress.

Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, the secret to making this dimension of personality work for you is to know where you lie along the introvert/extrovert dimension, and then to capitalise on the strengths your tendency affords you.

It's estimated that extroverts outnumber introverts at a ratio of about three to one.

In Western society today, it's estimated that extroverts outnumber introverts at a ratio of about three to one. Furthermore, many argue that the qualities possessed by extroverts are valued more highly than those of introverts.

While I think it is true that extroverts outnumber introverts, the idea that it's better to be an extrovert than an introvert is a belief more commonly held in the US than it is in Europe – and even in America, the qualities of both introverts and extroverts are recognised and valued.

Further reading

How do I know if I'm introvert or extrovert?

Can you be a confident introvert?

The all-or-nothing personality type: good or bad?

11 tips for highly sensitive people at work

Surviving the city as a highly sensitive person