I recently stumbled across this article on the differences between shyness and introversion, a subject in which I, an introvert, have always been interested. It confirmed several points I had read before, as well as experienced in my own life:
Shyness and introversion are two types of personality characteristics that are very often written off as the same thing by those that don’t have to deal with one, the other, or both. Introversion is one of the pairs in the Myers-Briggs personality tests that is given a higher rating if the person recharges their energy by solitary activities such as reading, writing, and reflection. Shyness defines how a person deals with others and unfamiliar situations; those who are shy have a hard time talking to and meeting new people, and are often uncomfortable in new situations.
If I had to summarize, I’d say that shy people are quiet because they are insecure, whereas introverts are quiet because they don’t derive a high level of pleasure and stimulation from social activity—or, to be more precise, as high a level as extroverts. Introverts can be shy, but are not necessarily so. Shy people, moreover, are not necessarily introverts.
The introvert doesn’t feel the need to seek out social interaction. In fact, too much social interaction can be emotionally and physically exhausting for them. Strangely, a study by the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences suggest that there’s a very different way that the brain of an introvert registers the world around them. When studying the brain activity that went on in an introverted person, it was found that there was no more electrical activity happening when they were looking at another person compared to when they were looking at inanimate objects. This suggests there’s a biological reason that introverts don’t seek out social interaction—they’re just not stimulated by it.
I can only speak from my own experience: I enjoy speaking to others and being in social situations, but I burn out more easily than the average person. After about an hour, two at most, I am in desperate need of a quiet room with books or a long, solitary walk. I can return to the group only after a kind of “recharge” of my own brain.
There are, of course, levels of introversion. It is possible, at least in my amateur opinion, to be an introvert with certain extrovert characteristics, or vice versa. For instance, I am perfectly comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. I love it, in fact, and don’t tire of it while I’m doing it. So I am in the peculiar situation of being more comfortable in front of crowds than I am inside of them.