No two introverts are exactly alike–what might be too much for one person is not enough for someone else. And we’re sensitive to different things. Some introverts are extremely bothered by noise and big groups, while for other introverts, crowds aren’t a big deal.
Psychologist Jonathon Cheek, along with graduate students Jennifer Grimes and Courtney Brown, wanted to explore these differences. They hypothesized that there are different types of introverts, or in other words, different ways in which a person’s introversion can be expressed. They surveyed about five hundred adults of various ages, asking them about their preferences for spending time alone, how likely they were to daydream, etc. They came up with four types of introverts: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. They named their model “STAR,” after the first letter of each type.
According to their model, a person can be predominately one type (for example, you could be solely a “thinking” introvert). Or you could be a blend of two or more types. Read the following descriptions. Which type (or types) sound like you? Or, scroll down to the quiz at the bottom of this article.
Don’t be fooled. This isn’t what it sounds like. A “social” introvert in Cheek’s model isn’t an introvert who is so outgoing that they can pass for an extrovert. A “social” introvert is someone who is introverted in a social way. It means you have a preference for hanging out with just a few people at a time. Or, sometimes, you prefer not to hang out with anyone at all—people who are high in social introversion like being alone. Instead of partying on a Saturday night, you’d rather stay home and play your favorite video game or watch Netflix. Of course, this assumes that you’re staying home because you have a preference for low-key activities, and not because you’re shy or have social anxiety. Shyness and social anxiety are not the same as introversion.
Like the term sounds, a “thinking” introvert is someone who is introspective, thoughtful, and self-reflective. This person daydreams and enjoys losing themselves in their inner fantasy world. We’re not talking about neurotically losing a grip on reality, though; this is about imagination and creativity. Unlike social introverts, thinking introverts don’t share the same aversion to social activities that people usually associate with introversion. So, a thinking introvert might hang out with their friends all weekend but then spend Sunday night alone journaling, daydreaming, or working on their graphic novel.
While social introverts seek solitude because they prefer low-key activities, anxious introverts avoid socializing because they feel awkward and painfully self-conscious around other people. These are people who are likely not very confident in their social skills. Unfortunately, their anxiety doesn’t lessen when they’re alone, because this type of introversion is defined by a tendency to ruminate. An anxious introvert may turn things over and over in their mind, wondering what could have, or what already has, gone wrong. They may have trouble shutting off their obsessive negative thoughts. They may even stay awake, late at night, playing events over and over in their mind. That embarrassing thing they said five years ago? It still haunts them today.
Do you jump out of bed, ready to seize the day? Do you like to keep busy as much as possible? Is your motto, “I’ll try anything once!” If so, you’re probably not a restrained introvert. Restrained introverts tend to operate at a slightly slower pace. They may take a while to get going. They prefer to think before they speak or act. To relax, they like to slow down and take it easy, as opposed to seeking out new or exciting experiences and sensations. They may sometimes feel sluggish and lacking energy.
The STAR model is a work in progress, but it’s an important step forward in expanding the definition of introversion. Interestingly, Cheek and his colleagues believe that the term introversion should never be used by itself. Instead they argue that we should put a specific modifier in front of the word, like “social” or “anxious,” for example, by explaining to a curious extrovert: “Yes, I’m an introvert, but I’m a thinking introvert, which means large groups don’t bother me, but I like having plenty of time alone to think and reflect.”
Of course, these four “types” are based on trends in how people describe their own preferences, and aren’t part of the definition of introversion used by most psychologists. But it does seem to get at the heart of why two people can both test as introverts and still have very different experienced.
To score yourself in all four categories, take Scott Barry Kaufman’s simplified manual version of the STAR test, found at the end of this blog post.
This article is based on an excerpt from my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World.
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