What It Really Means To Be an Introvert—And How To Distinguish Between the 4 Types

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When you think of an introvert, you might picture someone who loves their alone time. But while that’s likely to be true for any introvert, they don’t all share the same motivations for their introverted nature or act on them in the same way, either. In fact, introverts aren’t a monolith: There are four types of introverts with distinct habits and tendencies.

Introversion is a spectrum and typically refers to “someone who can feel more easily drained in social situations (especially consecutive ones or too many in a certain timeframe) and needs alone time to recharge,” says clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD. “They can enjoy and definitely benefit from socializing with others, but they also need to be mindful to take time to recharge alone or in more meditative spaces.”

Experts In This Article

Though the concepts of introversion and extroversion were first developed by psychologist Carl Jung in the early 1900s, the four subtypes of introversion were defined more recently. In 2011, psychologist and researcher Jonathan Cheek, PhD, created the STAR model of introversion1 to explain the four introversion subgroups: social introversion, thinking introversion, anxious introversion, and restrained introversion.

Each of these four types of introverts is distinguished by unique motivations, pitfalls, and social preferences. Read on for more detail about the four types of introverts, plus how to tell if you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert.

What is an introvert?

“An introvert is a person who tends to find rejuvenation in alone time and, in general, prefers solitary or quiet activities to more gregarious-oriented activities,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. An extrovert, in comparison, is “more often geared toward external experiences such as making friends and engaging in social events,” she adds.

“An introvert is a person who tends to find rejuvenation in alone time and, in general, prefers solitary or quiet activities to more gregarious-oriented activities.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist

Omniverts (also called ambiverts) make up the middle ground on the introvert vs. extrovert spectrum and are “people who have a balance of introversion and extroversion,” Dr. Gallagher says. “They might very much enjoy socializing and engaging socially but also need a good deal of alone time for their mental health.”

It’s important to remember that both extroverts and introverts can be social beings. That’s to say, introverts aren’t necessarily socially anxious or shy; in fact, some introverts are super outgoing, says Dr. Gallagher (more on this below). What separates an introvert from an extrovert is how they recharge, with introverts needing more alone time than extroverts, who can feel rejuvenated in and draw energy from social situations.

Are introverts born or made?

Is introversion nurture or nature? The answer is both. Research has shown2 that introversion is roughly 50 percent genetic or heritable, and the other 50 percent is likely determined by a person’s environment. Dr. Gallagher gives this example: If you had an introverted parent who emphasized alone time, you could go on to develop an introverted personality from them.

Ultimately, human beings are “all a combination of our genetics and our environment,” says Dr. Gallagher, meaning the nature of your upbringing (particularly the dynamics in your childhood home) and your biology can both factor into your personality type and where you wind up on the introvert-to-extrovert spectrum.

4 types of introverts

1. Social introvert

A social introvert is someone who is really big on embracing JOMO as a lifestyle choice. They’re not shy, per se; they just prioritize streamlined social interactions.

"The social introvert tends to prefer a small group setting and alone time," says Dr. Manly. "This can certainly be a strength, as the well-grounded social introvert is often a quiet 'rock' in gatherings. And, a social introvert can certainly be a comfort for those who are anxious or prefer to be in the background of social settings."

2. Thinking introvert

Thinking introverts are quiet-genius types. They love hypothesizing, creating, ideating, and storytelling to such an extent that it dominates much of their mental space, thus de-prioritizing other people as an unintended effect. These introverts might come across as aloof or spacey to anyone who can't hold their attention. When they do talk, though, people tend to cling to their every word.

"A thinking introvert can be an invaluable asset in regard to adding much-needed thoughtfulness and creativity to social settings," Dr. Manly says. "Although quiet, the thinking introvert often has insights that are truly profound."

When it comes to socializing, most thinking introverts prefer “mental haven” activities where they can learn, study, or research (think: visiting a library, museum, or art installation).

3. Anxious introvert

An anxious introvert can feel genuinely unsettled in social gatherings and even when alone. (They might suffer from social anxiety or a related anxiety disorder, but that’s not always the case.) Most anxious introverts prefer predictable or familiar activities and hanging out with people they know versus attending social events involving strangers.

The strength of the anxious introvert is in finding quieter ways to connect with people one-on-one. "The anxious introvert’s sensitivity can actually be helpful in creating subgroups in social gatherings that even out the general tempo," says Dr. Manly. "For example, an anxious introvert may form a small group outside during a busy social gathering."

By a similar token, the anxious introvert may also feel more comfortable tending to tasks behind the scenes, adds Dr. Manly. If a friend is hosting a huge party to celebrate their birthday, it might ease their nerves to get there early and help with setting up. "This is a necessary and often much-appreciated use of the anxious introvert’s energy," says Dr. Manly.

4. Restrained introvert

The restrained introvert simply doesn't show their cards upfront and is really guarded at first. But, once you get to know them, they're happy to play open-handed. Until popping out of that protective shell, though, a restrained introvert can be a truly grounding force among their peers.

"The restrained introvert often adds an element of common sense to discussions and activities," says Dr. Manly. "Their generally high level of reserve lends itself to balance the often-impetuous nature of true extroverts."

What is the rarest introvert?

There isn’t a rarest type of introvert per se, says Dr. Manly. She adds that most introverts are a combination of two to three types, and she mostly interacts with social and thinking introverts in her practice.

That said, there is a rare personality type in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a self-reported personality questionnaire that categorizes personality into four subsections. Out of the 16 personalities in MBTI, the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging (INFJ) is the rarest, with around one to three percent of the U.S. population3 falling into this category. People with the INFJ personality type are introverted but like to help others and make deep, meaningful connections. Like all introverts, they also need alone time to recharge.

How do I know if I’m an introvert?

If you often feel yourself feeling pulled or pressured into social situations, then you may fit the bill for introversion, says Dr. Manly. Some other signs of introversion include:

  • Easily getting overstimulated in larger groups
  • Having a preference for intimate social settings over crowded spaces
  • Having a few close friends (versus many acquaintances)

Remember, introverts need alone time to decompress, typically more than extroverts or ambiverts. This is why setting clear boundaries is essential for introverts, so they can honor their personal needs without breaking friendships or relationships.

Can a talkative person be an introvert?

One of the most common misconceptions about introversion is that all introverts are quiet, demure, or sensitive. Most introverts are socially adept, “but they might need a lesser dose of social interaction in their life,” says Dr. Gallagher. “The truth is that we all need meaningful social relationships—just in different doses.”

Introversion vs. social anxiety

Being introverted does not necessarily mean you have social anxiety, and vice versa. Introverts need (and enjoy using) solitude to recharge, while those with social anxiety have a fear of social situations. Dr. Gallagher explains that most people with social anxiety want to engage in social settings, but fear of rejection or judgment prevents them from doing so, typically to their own disappointment.

Dr. Gallagher notes that there’s a varying degree of social interaction across the introversion-to-extroversion spectrum. But that’s not the case for social anxiety disorder—there is little to no social interaction for someone with social anxiety.

Naturally, someone can be both an introvert and a socially anxious person. In this case, the person would require alone time to feel rejuvenated and prefer intimate or one-on-one social settings, while also being anxious about socializing and afraid of rejection. As with most things, two things can be true at once.

Introversion vs. shyness

You can think of shyness as a much milder version of social anxiety: Where shyness is a personality trait involving feeling timid or bashful around others, social anxiety is a mental health condition stemming from a deep-rooted fear of not being accepted by others. And for the same reason that social anxiety does not equate to introversion, neither does shyness.

Again, introversion reflects a preference for solitude and for restoring one’s energy with alone time, whereas shyness occurs in a person who is fearful in social settings, says Dr. Manly. You can certainly be both shy and introverted, but neither quality necessitates the other. (In fact, you can also be an extrovert who is shy, just like you can be an extrovert with social anxiety.)

The key way to tell if you’re shy, introverted, socially anxious, or all of the above is by taking note of your social interactions, says Dr. Gallagher. She likes to ask her clients how they feel about social scenarios. “Do they want more of them, and is there some degree of fear holding them back, or are they content to be social in fewer doses?” she says. If she can detect any fear related to socializing, that’s her indicator that shyness or social anxiety may be in play, whereas feelings of satisfaction surrounding a quiet social life may indicate introversion (and again, both can be true, too).

“The one thing I watch out for is if someone has told themselves they are just introverted when really they are socially anxious and avoidant.” —Thea Gallagher, PsyD, clinical psychologist

“The one thing I watch out for is if someone has told themselves they are just introverted when really they are socially anxious and avoidant,” adds Dr. Gallagher. That would be a scenario where someone reveals that they are deeply fearful or self-conscious in social settings, but they try to convince themselves that they just don’t need or want to socialize as much as others.

Ultimately, it’s important to have meaningful social relationships regardless of where you may fall on the introversion-to-extroversion spectrum. Exactly how often and how you interact with others, though, is up to you.

There’s nothing wrong with being introverted—in fact, each of the four types of introverts has their own strengths that can be handy in introvert-centric careers and just when it comes to genuinely connecting with people. No matter what kind of introvert you may be, you certainly have value to contribute, whether that's with your ideas, your sensitivity, or simply your expertly honed sense of self.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Grimes, Jennifer, et al. Four Meanings of Introversion: Social, Thinking, Anxious, and Inhibited Introversion. 2011.
  2. Hobgood, Donna K. “ABO B gene is associated with introversion personality tendencies through linkage with dopamine beta hydroxylase gene.” Medical hypotheses vol. 148 (2021): 110513. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2021.110513
  3. Kopel, J. “Physician Personality and Patient Confidence”. The Southwest Respiratory and Critical Care Chronicles, Vol. 6, no. 26, Oct. 2018, pp. 30-36, doi:10.12746/swrccc.v6i26.502.

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