If You’re Not An Introvert Or Extrovert, You Could Be An Ambivert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Some people will be able to answer this question immediately, but for others, it’s a little trickier to know which group they fit into best. If that’s you, then you might resonate with the term “ambivert” – basically, a little bit introvert and a little bit extrovert.

Introverts vs. extroverts

Determining someone’s personality type is a complex business. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert is just one small part of the blend of innate traits and life experiences that make you uniquely you. But it can still be helpful to understand where you might fall on this spectrum, and how it might impact your relationships with others.

Let’s start by busting a few myths. Many people take the word “introvert” to be a synonym for “shy” or “antisocial”, and that’s simply not the case. There are highly sociable introverts, just as there are socially anxious extroverts. The difference really comes down to how much social stimulation you can handle before you need some time to recharge.

You might immediately recognize yourself as an introvert if you find yourself scheduling in pockets of alone time between social events. You could be the life and soul of the party one day, but you won’t be ready to go again until you’ve had some time to decompress. It’s not that you don’t enjoy spending time with friends and loved ones – you just run out of steam before other people do. (Of course, if you are an introvert who prefers to avoid company most of the time, that’s valid too!).

By contrast, extroverts tend to feel that their “social battery” is charged, and not drained, by being around other people. You may almost find that you “feed off” other people’s energy, and you may actively dislike being alone. 

One oft-cited theory that seeks to explain this is the “dopamine hypothesis”. Dopamine is often – incompletely and simplistically – called the “pleasure chemical”, and among its many functions in the brain is its role in the reward pathway. Some research has suggested that people who score more highly for extroversion are more sensitive to dopamine-mediated rewards, although a 2015 review of data on the topic up to that point called the evidence “mixed at best”. 

As with other personality traits, it’s likely that extroversion arises from a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Deliberately emulating the opposite personality type might also be easier than you think, according to a piece in The Conversation by Dr Andrew Spark and Professor Peter O’Connor from Queensland University of Technology.

But when it comes to the broad dichotomy between extroversion and introversion, a lot of people actually fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Enter the ambiverts.

“The ambivert advantage”

In a 2013 paper, psychologist Adam Grant offered a perspective on the advantages of an ambivert personality type as it applies to people working in sales. At first glance, sales jobs sound like an extrovert’s dream, but Grant’s research led to a different conclusion. A study of 340 call center employees found those who fell towards the middle of the extroversion-introversion scale had the highest sales performance, due to greater flexibility in dealing with different customer interactions. 

This is characteristic of what the term “ambivert” means to most people – you can be more extroverted when the occasion arises, and then flip to being more introverted at other times.

Still unsure whether this applies to you? Following Grant’s research, Forbes published a handy list of nine signs that you too might be an ambivert, including things like, “Being the center of attention is fun for me, but I don’t like it to last.” 

Author Daniel H. Pink, who writes about human behavior in the world of work, also has an online quiz you can take that claims to assess your levels of extroversion (author’s note: after strongly identifying as an introvert all my adult life, my result came through as “ambivert”, so excuse me while I go rethink some stuff.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to wherever you fall within the introvert-ambivert-extrovert range – no one personality is “better” than another, it’s more about learning to play to your strengths. But if you really, really want to make changes, some research suggests it is possible (a little bit, anyway).

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