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Extroversion/introversion/retroversion

Did you ever do one of those “personality” quizzes?  When I was in high school, these pseudo-psychological things were all the rage in the vaguer classes such as “social studies” and “health”.  Now that I’m a grown-up and occasionally get bundled off to training courses for work, I’ve learned that they’re still kicking around.  They’re bloody awful and I wish someone would call a stop to them.

Oh, you know the sort of thing I mean: the ones where you have to say whether you think you’re introverted or extroverted, or if you prefer logic or intuition when it comes to decision-making.  “A friend of yours says you’re too shy and need to speak up more.  Do you (a) strongly agree, (b) agree, (c) neither agree nor disagree, (d) disagree, or (e) strongly disagree?”

These are a distant cousin to the “Are you a Dumb Slut?”-type quizzes you’ll find in Cosmopolitan magazines; equally polarising and reductive, but far more insidious because they purport to genuinely diagnose certain personality characteristics.  The ones used in training courses are all the more potent because you often have to publicise your results to the rest of the class, and certain exercises or tasks will be distributed accordingly. (We pause here for a brief flashback into my experiences at training courses: “bethini, you’re a hands-on learner, so you’d love to do a team-based exercise, right?” “Nope, I’d rather eat glass.”)  In those situations, there’s an implicit assumption that we will take our test results seriously and at face value, as if certain inner truths can be revealed over the course of the 20 minutes or so allocated for taking and marking the tests.

I think the thing I hated most about these tests, especially in high school, was the fact that there was an implicit value judgment with regard to extroverts and introverts.  In high school, extroverts were good, introverts were losers.  If you preferred, oh, picking any old example out of the air, reading a book at home over partying wildly, then you were probably a freak or a loser or malformed or something.  And if your answer to the false dichotomy of introverted/extroverted varied according to mood, circumstance, society and phase of the moon, you could just piss right off.  There’s no room on the quiz to write that stuff down.

I must admit, at the time, I assumed it was just a high school thing.  I assumed that extroversion was a merit only among the cool-acracy of teenagers.  But I’ve realised that’s not the case at all.  It’s still an expected norm that ‘relaxing’ means ‘socialising’ and that ‘lots of friends’ is a universal indicator of someone who is not only functional but admirable.  If you were to describe someone as having “not very many friends”, there’s a whole universe of implicit values that accompany that phrase — surely there must be something wrong with them, why don’t people like them, why don’t they like people, etc. etc.  It isn’t considered, however briefly, that the person could have a few, intensely dear friends, or that their family is the core of their social lives, or even that they are perfectly happy and well-adjusted, but find people exhausting.

I think it stems from the overly-simplistic, but easily-digested theory that loneliness=solitude and vice versa.  Of course, anyone who thinks about it even for a moment will tell you that those two qualities are not bound to each other at all: that it is perfectly possible to be surrounded by friends and yet feel lonely, or to be completely isolated and still feel calm and not at all lonesome.  The notion of one or the other, extrovert or introvert, seems hopelessly over-simplified.

In light of these concerns, I have decided that the only personal analysis I shall undergo is through the quizzes available on Blogthings and similar sites.  It is only through these that I expect to truly understand my inner self or selves.  You will be interested to know that I am a Club Sandwich, I am 65% real, I am Lilac (the shade, not the flower) and I am Table Tennis.  And if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about me, then I don’t know what else to say.

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