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In Life

By Daniel Kao

On Ambiverts: Why Distinguishing Between Extroverts and Introverts is Inadequate

On 08, Jun 2013 | 49 Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

I’ve always hated the distinction between introverts and extroverts because I never could identify with either side. The accepted school of thought is that a person is either one or the other, without any middle ground.

According to Myers Briggs, perhaps the most widely popular and accepted personality test, extroverts are action oriented, seek breadth of knowledge and influence, prefer frequent interaction, and get energy from spending time with people while introverts are thought oriented, seek depth of knowledge and influence, prefer more substantial interaction, and get their energy from spending time alone.

However, contrary to the binary choices provided by Myers Briggs, I’ve realized that extroversion/introversion is a spectrum, like a person’s height.

All of my life, I’ve had people (family, close friends, teachers, counselors) tell me different things. Some would say I was an introvert, and others would say that I was an extrovert. To different people I seemed to be different things.

After browsing the web and looking at a few more resources and doing some reflection, I came across a term called the ambivert, and finally felt understood by a personality test. I am very much an ambivert. There seems to be very little written about ambiverts, (Evernote isn’t even recognizing it as a word) so here are my thoughts.

Ambiverts sit on the spectrum of social interaction right in between the introverts and extroverts. Ambiverts love spending time with people, but get tired after spending too much time around people. Ambiverts are also very capable of doing things alone, but spending an entire day alone can suck them into a depressed, unproductive mood.

Ambiverts love interacting with people, but in a very purposeful way. Ambiverts can have extremely animated and interactive conversations, or mellow and meditative ones. Ambiverts will defend both their personal time as well as their social time.

Ambiverts process information best when they process internally and externally. Ambiverts need time and space to process things on their own, but they also need people who they can trust to process things with externally. In order for ambiverts to fully process information, they usually need both.

Ambiverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, but dive deep when they are truly passionate. Ambiverts can be thought or action oriented, depending on the situation, but they are also oftentimes both.

The challenge for ambiverts is finding one thing to stick with. Because ambiverts do well socially and individually, it’s easy for an ambivert to become the jack of all trades, having knowledge in many different areas but not necessarily an expert an any of them.

Ambiverts tend to do well adapting to any situation that they are placed in, whether it be a loud social scene or a secluded environment.

However, no matter if you identify as an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert, don’t let a personality test define how you think about yourself. Figuring out how you work best for yourself is much more helpful than any test.

What do you think? Where would you put yourself on the spectrum?

photo credit: jeff o_o via photopin cc

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  1. Every psychologist knows that Inytrovert/extrovert is not a bipolar function but rather two ends of a continuous scale. As for Myers Briggs, yes you are right it is popular, notmally with HR people who don’t know any better. it has many flaws and is a quick and easy catagorising test. this means that it does appear to polorise the factors. onl;y because of the construction of the scale, not as a function of what it is measuring.

    • Mike, I agree completely. I believe that Myer Briggs should be used as a supplement to understanding your personality, not as a definition of your personality. Myers Briggs often made me feel boxed in, as if my personality was reduced to a combination of four letters.

  2. What do you mean, “not as a function of what it is measuring”, Mike? I thought that all scales are functions of what they measure.

    At any rate, the existence of ambiversion moves us toward no longer a single continuous scale of extraversion/introversion, instead breaking it down into at least two interrelated but independent components.

    • That is an interesting thought about breaking it down into at least two interrelated but independent components. While I’ve never thought about it that way, I think there is merit to that idea. It allows people to understand their capacity for interacting with people as well as interacting with themselves.

  3. Jung doesn’t say people are either/or.

    For one, he says that the descriptions themselves are only meant as helpful thumbnail sketches, not things that should be taken as true. This applies to type descriptions for thinking, feeling, intuiting, and sensing psychic functions as well.

    Having said that, in articulating the introvert/extravert distinction, he notes that if people tend habitually more toward one than the other, then our shadow will tend to be informed by the opposite. For example: if I am primarily an extraverted thinker, my shadow will tend to express itself as an introverted feeler.

    (I’m simplifying terminology some for brevity.)

    In general, the whole Jungian typology may be used as an on-the-fly, right-now-at-this-very-moment template or interpretive lens for our interactions with one another, without proposing that these explanations are (or an be) true. Heuresis, not truth. The typology, or whatever else we are using at the moment, helps to interpret and guide our interactions with each other, not to establish the truth (or a truth) but to facilitate our interaction. When truth becomes the object, problems begin. Problems might result from facilitated interaction too, of course.

    The concept of ambiversion wrecks the heuresis, since it takes two concepts, that were never intended to be reified in the first place, reifies them and then seeks to find a middle ground between them. See Oyama’s (2000) Ontogeny of Information for why this is all a bad idea. Meanwhile, it also erases the distinction for recognizing or coordinating whatever factors each individual expresses in personality (or might express) that lead to acting extraverted or introverted; ambiversion is less articulate in this respect, and that represents a descriptive loss as well.

    An underlying issue in all of this involves the tendency of people to want to “fix” others in a given description, and what is at stake in why we do that and for what reasons, and especially WHO gets to do such fixing (males, females, whites, non-whites, etc).

    • “Snow Leopard”, thanks for the eloquently written insight.

      Definitely, I don’t think that defining personalities into extrovert / ambivert / introvert is completely adequate either, but I think understanding ambivert helps people to understand that personalities should be seen on a scale, not as black and white choices.

  4. GO figure. You described me exactly. Interesting :)

    • Looks like you’re somewhere in the ambivert zone then! =P

  5. A proposal: humans are innately social creatures and what is described here as an ambivert is actually just the properly nuanced description of an introvert, while the contrast that the author makes between an introvert and an ambivert is actually based mostly on misconceptions about what a real introverted person is like. In other words, this article could be “Dispelling myths about introverts.”

    • I agree that humans are all innately social creatures as well, and that no matter how introverted you may think you are, you still have some capacity for human interaction. With that said, I think there is still a very clear middle ground between introverts and extroverts for people who want more human interaction than introverts, but less than extroverts.

      • Katie

        I would actually say that it’s pretty restrictive to say that ALL extroverts want human interaction all the time and that ALL introverts never want to be around people. Jung doesn’t say that, and neither will any decent psychologist. The difference between extroverts and introverts is the means by which they gain and lose energy in relation to social interaction. That’s it. And it IS on a scale, even in the personality test that you are against. So yeah, an introvert can love conversation and discussion, but still feel like they need to be alone to process the information later. An extrovert can feel the need to be alone sometimes. There’s no need to create an entirely new category for a scale which already exists.

        • Anon.

          What about this? I gain tons energy from socializing, but it’s like a drug and then I crash afterward. I’m quiet-ish in public and really careful deciding who I trust with my inner thoughts, but then once I choose someone I’m an open book, can’t keep any secrets, talk their ear off. So what do you call a middle ground that’s not actually in the middle, it’s a little bit of both extremes?

  6. A proper Myers-Briggs test does not give “binary” results as you say but gives scores on a sliding scale. Internet pop quizzes might give “binary” results. They might also misspell ‘extravert’. I think we know how this item was researched.

    • Oh, I didn’t realize that’s how a proper Myers Briggs is supposed to work. Is there a place online that offers a “proper” test? Or do people have to go somewhere else for one?

      • Evelyn

        It’s not something you would be able to find for free online; there may be some paid versions. Any good book about Myers-Briggs types should have a thorough and proper test in there as well as information on results. I did mine (years ago) at my university’s career center. My results on the I/E spectrum (and two of the three others) fell pretty much smack in the middle. Subsequent online personality types have given me different results based on how the questions are phrased and my living/work circumstances at the time

      • Shane

        Alison & Evelyn made exactly the point I was going to make – that the MBTI, although popularly represented as binary with one of two letters along four dimensions, actually gives a score for each of those dimensions. People with high scores have stronger tendency toward that end of the dimension, people with lower scores may flex more between the two ends of the dimension. I had the same experience as Evelyn, when taking the MBTI with a certified administrator, my introvert/extravert score was very low on the introvert side which suggests I don’t have a strong tendency toward one style or the other but flex between them. When I’ve taken less robust versions of the MBTI, on the internet or in-person, I’ve ended up with both I & E at different times, which probably reflects this low score.

        Also, keep in mind, the MBTI represents a tendency or style. It doesn’t mean a person is always a certain way. Even a very strong introvert can be the life of the party at times and enjoy it and a very strong extravert can need downtime away from people to recharge.

        All that said, I like your idea of an ambivert though!

  7. This is an answer to a long time discussion I’ve been having with my youngest son (age 16). He’s read a number of books about personality styles and we disagree on his own. Although I’ve always considered myself an extrovert, as I’ve gotten older I’ve drifted toward the introvert side of things. To the point your middle ground terminology better describes me than just extrovert. And it also better describes my son.

    I’ve noticed people will adjust their personality styles to their environment. Folks in a certain type of job may behave totally differently at work than at home or among close friends. Perhaps as time passes and we age and our environment influences us, we all become more of a mixture of personality styles. Looks like my son is starting off that way.

    Theresa 8-)

  8. Dawna

    Myers-Briggs makes it very clear that not only is the test on a continuum, but it measures PREFERENCE at a given time of life. This means acknowledging individuals have and use the grouped qualities on both ends of a spectrum– but certain preferred modes of operation reveal a style shared by personality types. These preferences may change with maturity and life experiences.

    • Shane

      Well said, Dawna!

  9. ActingUpAgain

    The problem I have with these personality tests is that no matter what the answer, it’s easy to see yourself in the results. I have all the traits of an intervert, but also some of the traits of an extrovert. I have all of the traits of a Capricorn (early January birthday), but I also have the traits of a Cancer, a Gemini, and an Aquarius.

    When we examine ourselves, even with specific measuring devices like Briggs-Meyers, our POV is skewing the results. As cold and as rational as we’d like to be, we cannot possibly be objective about our own behavior.

    However, that doesn’t mean what we discover about ourselves is invalid. Anytime we self-examine, we tend to find something we want to change, and the best of us muster up the courage to do so. So if creating the term “ambivert” gets people closer to understanding themselves and finding comfort, I’m all for it!

  10. An excellent post but I question this: “The accepted school of thought is that a person is either one or the other, without any middle ground.”

    Even those of us who write about introversion often refer to the fact that introversion/extroversion exist on a continuum with most of us falling somewhere between the two poles. While certainly anyone who falls closest to the center of the continuum will relate to your excellent description of an ambivert, I don’t accept your accepted school of thought. :)

  11. ian

    You are completely correct that categorizing yourself on one end of the spectrum or the other, introvert or extrovert is bogus. However, the 4 “letters” in Jungian theory of personality type are collaborative and help build a much more complex story about your day to day interactions than you elude. Jung also discusses developing the non dominant type as critical to personal development, which maybe you have done to fall somewhere in the middle. I’d recommend reading “Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type”, it was extremely helpful to me in determining my own personality type. I’m an ISFP, but developing my ‘shadow’, the ESTJ was critical to achieving success in the work place.

    • ian

      ESTJ = ENTJ**

  12. Lyla

    I agree. I’m an ENFP but on the test I did I only showed a 1 or 2 percent preference for Extraversion. Most people don’t look at their precise results for the tests, which actually do show some nuance. I appreciated this post!

  13. Martin

    What’s ambivert about that description?
    No matter how I look at it, that’s an Introvert description.

    Some people say I’m a random Extrovert, others Shy extrovert, then some say Loud Introvert and people who don’t know me say I’m a loner/antisocial.

    And that’s me in a nutshell.

    Heck I even have lots of moments dissenting with most silent and quiet time the other Introverts in Social Introverts prefer.
    I even have a problem with the “Awkward Silence” that plagues many extroverts when interacting with Introverts.

    No I’m not a Shy Extrovert nor am I an Ambivert.
    I’m just a moderate Introvert.
    ISTP here with 5w6 enneagram.

    If Introversion is 1 and Extroversion is 10 then I’m a 4.
    Does that make me an Ambivert?
    No it doesn’t

  14. I read this and felt like I was reading about myself. I LOVE THIS. Thank you.

  15. jdmc4spaa

    “However, contrary to the binary choices provided by Myers Briggs, I’ve realized that extroversion/introversion is a spectrum, like a person’s height.”

    indeed the 4-letter MBTI categorization is binary. There are 4 **dichotomies**.

    Extraversion (E) – (I) Introversion
    Sensing (S) – (N) Intuition
    Thinking (T) – (F) Feeling
    Judging (J) – (P) Perception

    Any reputable test will not only give you a type (I’m INTP), but also where you are the scale; yes, the dichotomies are not absolute! For instance:

    I 22%
    N 78%
    T 48%
    P 42%

    My gf is 78% “I” and I’m only 22%, but we’re both “I”s. When reading our respective profile types, it’s important to keep in mind that her introverted attendances will be more pronounced than mine.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that your rating for any of these dicotomies can change. I’ve seen my introversion reach as high as 35% and as low as below 0%, which means that I’m sometimes an extrovert.

    for instance:
    E 3%
    N 78%
    T 48%
    P 42%

  16. Thanks for the article. I did enjoy it. After having read in recent months, Quiet: The Power of Introverts and Introverts in the Church, I am interested in the topic. I also appreciated the comments of those with background in Jung. I think what most of us dislike is being labelled and the ambivert label is an attempt to provide something in between. I agree that the ambivert would still likely be an introvert on the scale and so technically incorrect. But helpful for others who will never take the full test and know they fit somewhere in between the two extremes.

  17. Ayush

    I think it is a wonderful term and should be added in the dictionary soon. I was going through the different personality traits of an extrovert and an introvert on TED and was just deciding where do i fit in, have some qualities of both. A personality test can not define you and finding your own way to happiness is the best way. As they say i did not want to be correct but just choose to be happy.

  18. mike williams (@memeweaver)

    My Myers-Briggs results consistently shown me borderline on all axes other than N/S where I am more clearly N. So while I may lean toward INTP, I am more properly XNXX.

    On this issue, I am an introvert-leaning ambivert. In a room full of introverts, I’ll be the one to break the ice. In a room full of extroverts, I’ll find a reason to go home early.

  19. TJ

    Look, ambiversion is wonderful concept for those people who are unsure of their status as an E or an I, but I can guarantee you with 98% certainty that it does not exist. That’s because EVERYONE needs time alone and EVERYONE needs time with people. Brain patterns are very distinct and it would be probably next to impossible to posses both. Some people are shy extraverts with few friends and others are outgoing introverts with many friends. If these people weren’t careful in how they understood personality theory, they would probably classify themselves as an introvert, though that’s not true. I’m speaking, of course, on the neurological end of introversion and extraversion. Things may manifest as though you are in the middle and have both but truthfully you are probably one or the other. Literally every ambivert I’ve met I’ve been able to distinguish for them the pattern they typically use and eventually they realize they are one or the other. If ambiversion was real then everyone would be an ambivert and distinctions would be useless. No, everybody is not an ambivert and distinct brain patterns do exist for introversion and extraversion.

    • TJ

      “they would probably classify themselves as an introvert”
      I meant to say “ambivert”

  20. M

    So I’m an ambivert. I, like you, have always been pegged by different people as either an introvert or an extrovert, and when they’d label me they’d be so convinced. As a child I was more comfortable with adults. I loved having intelligent conversations, and I’d always have loads to say. Sometimes I’d even dominate the conversations. All of my parents’ friends thought of me as very out-going, even precocious. At school, it was a whole other story. Around my peers I felt very reserved, and many of my classmates thought of me as very shy. My teachers were always surprised when I’d actually talk to them after class, because during class they’d assumed I was mute. My family and closest friends all perceive me as talkative and dominant, they don’t believe me when I tell them I’m shy when meeting new people. But I’m very meek around most strangers, especially peers. But beyond all of this behavioral evidence of my ambiversion, inside I think I certainly qualify as well. I cherish and highly value my close friendships, but at the same time, I do get drained with too much social interaction. I’m also not great at keeping in touch, yet I spend a lot of time thinking about people who aren’t around anymore, I don’t really move on from close friendships, I keep those
    people close to my heart. I always dread going to parties, and get very anxious about it like an introvert. But when I get to the party, I always end up having tons of fun and being the center of attention like an extrovert. I value alone time for creation and introspection, but too much of it, like you, and I become depressed and despondent. In group projects at school or work, I would always take a leadership role. I’m naturally good at maintaining creative control and delegating tasks. I was never bossy, but if there ever was a way I thought my leadership would be beneficial I’d step up fairly willingly, and rather enjoyed the challenge of being in charge. I do admit that I’d be fine only having to deal with close family and friends. I don’t exactly crave attention or hundreds of friends. In fact, I don’t do much social networking at all even in this day and age. But then again, whenever I’m obliged to attend a social function, I’m usually the life of the party, and end up making new friends incredibly easily. All in all, ambiversion fits me beautifully. In fact, for all of the personality tests I’ve taken I’ve never had a consistent result in the extro-introversion spectrim

  21. M

    Sorry about the “spectrum” typo. My computer makes the text extremely small and “u” and “i” are right next to each other. Thanks for posting this! (:

    • Don’t sweat the typo, Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed reading your little blurb about how you tend to interact with people – seems like we have a lot in common. Glad that you were able to find that it put language to a lot of how you interact with people!

  22. Kencil Amadi

    I think that you shouldn’t need to take a personality test to figure/understand who you are. From a very young age I have always understood who I am, personality tests are for people to categorize others and what they think of you. If everyone would just realise who they were and there purpose in life then wouldn’t need to wrap themselves into a nice box. We are people not an object waiting for inspection. Self reflection meditation and understanding works, just try it. I think the only good thing about personality tests are for career purposes.

    I totally went in another route from the topic being discussed, what can I say I beat to my own drum. I know that I am a intovert with extrovert tendencies, which means that I think internally but also love expressing myself through dance and art. A lot of people think that I am shy but I am not just like to observe before Iinvest my time or friendship.

    Love peace and harmony from Kencil Amadi

    • Kencil, I agree with what you said. I think people should be able to confidently know how they work without relying on external tools such as an introvert / extrovert test to determine how the live. It’s simply too black and white.

      Dance and art are two things I wish that I had more time for.

  23. Thomas

    As a working therapist it is already common knowledge among mental health care workers, therapists, psychologists and so on that a 100% extrovert or introvert are as common place as unicorns. The first sentence in this article is completely wrong as far as the assumption that “The accepted school of thought is that a person is either one or the other, without any middle ground,” this is inaccurate, misleading and renders the entire article atrociously redundant.

    • I think you misunderstand the intention of the sentence.

      It’s true that the MBTI test measures everything on a scale, yes. But it also classified you either as an extravert or introvert. I understand that it is meant to measure your dominance for one side or the other, but it fails to explain those who fall directly between the two, people who show NO preference. That’s where the term ambivert comes in, and that’s what is meant by there being no middle ground-MBTI either give you an I or an E, no A. It makes perfect, logical sense for it to be possible that a person shows no dominance either way, and thus should be classified as neutral. Jung tests are an outdated model that in my opinion should be rethought and charted on a spectrum instead of in categories.

  24. Simon

    It seems to me that we’re all Ambiverts as to call it that is somewhere in between the two parameters. Noone is a pure intro/extravert if I have understood Jung correctly. I think it’s unneccesary to implement a divider between the two, even though your thoughts on the subject are interesting. To me I’d value keeping it as simple as possible to avoid falling into more boxes..

  25. Scott Nonnenberg

    Not sure I like the Ambivert title, but I do like getting past the black and white. In fact, I thought about this pretty deeply recently – the core concept for me was ‘social capacity’, worn down at different speeds in different situations. Pumped up in the right circumstances too:

  26. This is a very well written post. However, I do not believe ambiverts exist. As people have put it here, it seems to be a misunderstanding of Jungian Theory and MBTI. Introverts still need people, and can have fun and feel emotionally charged by good friends. Extroverts can want time alone from people from time to time. If someone was all one way or another, they would be very unstable.
    Another thing people misunderstand is how functions work. Different types extrovert and introvert different functions, and this can make different looking extrovert and introvert behaviors.
    For example, an INFJ can seem very outgoing, because they extrovert feeling as their secondary function. This makes them very friendly, caring, outgoing, fun and enjoyable to be around. But, if they don’t take time to indulge their primary introverted intuition, they burn out, and withdraw from the world until they recharge. I hear many ambiverts state that is how they feel in life and in social interactions, but in type theory they would be introverts.
    ENTPs extrovert intuition, which can come out as out loud brainstorming; they seem to inexplicably jump from topic to topic, in a way that makes them hard to follow. Many become shy as a result, and seem like introverts. But they may love being around others, and when around people who get that part of them, they would seem extremely extroverted.
    I would say that if someone is very close on their I-E percentage (single digits) they probably would feel like an ambivert. One could say an ambivert is just one who has a low preference for their type on either side. But according to MBTI and Jung, a true example cannot exist. Were one to be interested enough to care, and were to seek it out, I am sure most ambiverts could find a type they feel fits them.

  27. Lorie

    When I have taken these tests, I’ve come across as both an extrovert and introvert as well. The main difference I think, is who I am around. When I am spending time with people who are open, bubbly, and energetic, I find myself energized as well(even though afterwards I might feel sort of tired). I enjoy the open flow of ideas and conversation. However, when I spend time with more introverted friends, I don’t mind being quiet and mellow. Time alone isn’t draining for me either because I enjoy reading and daydreaming. I will add that I don’t always enjoy “pulling” conversation from people who are short with words but are wanting to “talk” because then I just feel like I am put in the position of an interviewer. (Not that this happens a lot, but when it does it is pretty uncomfortable).

  28. Lorie

    Now that I have written this, it seems like I am probably more of an extrovert–go figure?…Just one who likes time to dream and read most days. :)

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