Understanding the Dimensions of Introversion and Shyness

Outgoing introverts do not lack confidence. Getty Images / Thomas Barwick

Shyness and introversion are commonly mistaken as being the same thing. Shyness involves fear of negative evaluation (and is a milder form of social anxiety), whereas introversion refers to a tendency toward becoming over-stimulated and the need to be alone to gain energy.

The opposite of shyness is being outgoing, while the opposite of introversion is extroversion. These concepts are similar but different.

The outgoing person is not afraid of others and has a tendency to approach—be it at a party, when meeting someone new, or when making plans with friends.

The extrovert appears similar, often making friends easily. However, the core feature of the extrovert is a need for stimulation and time spent with others. This is reflected in brain neuroimaging studies that show different activation of areas of the brain in extroverts compared to introverts.

To summarize, we can think of each of these concepts as follows:

Shy: Fear of negative evaluation, a tendency toward avoidance.

Outgoing: Tendency to approach others, no fear of being around other people.

Introvert: Becomes easily overstimulated, needs time alone to regain energy after spending time with people.

Extrovert: Need for stimulation, recharges by spending time with other people, feels depleted after spending too much time alone.

Where do you think you fit in the introversion/extroversion and shy/outgoing dimensions? Obviously, we can't categorize people, but we can think of most individuals as leaning towards one of the following four groups:

  • Outgoing Extrovert (no fear, need for stimulation)
  • Shy Extrovert (fear, need for stimulation)
  • Outgoing Introvert (no fear, easily overstimulated)
  • Shy Introvert (fear, easily overstimulated)

To help figure out which group you most closely match, I've created a table that describes how a person leaning toward each category might respond to some typical social/interaction scenarios.

Have a look below and see if any of the patterns sound right for you.





At a party

This is so much fun! I feel so energized. I can’t wait to talk to everyone.

I love being around all these people, but I’m too scared to talk to them.

I really enjoy talking and getting to know people one-on-one. The whole crowd scene is a bit overwhelming though.

I wish I could just go home. It is exhausting being around all these people, and I am too nervous to talk to anyone.

At the library

I’m falling asleep. Who can I find to talk to? Maybe I should text someone. I wonder what Jenny is doing tonight.

It’s pretty boring being at the library, but at least I can hide in a corner and not make a fool of myself.

I love being at the library. I want to learn about so many topics. Maybe I should chat with the librarian, I bet they are a wealth of knowledge.

I love being at the library. I can hide my nose in a book and read all day. I’m too scared to ask the librarian a question though.

When the phone rings

Oh! I wonder who that could be. (Picks up after first ring).

Hmmm. I wonder who that could be? I really want to find out, but I am afraid to answer the phone. (Picks up too late).

Oh, I really hope that is Jane. I can’t wait to find out how her trip was. (Picks up after a few rings, lets Jane do most of the talking).

Oh no. I can’t pick up the phone. What if I make a fool of myself? I don’t really want to talk to anyone anyway. (Lets it go to voicemail).

Meeting someone for the first time

(Walks over and introduces herself) “Hi, my name is Sarah, I grew up with Kate. What’s your name?

(Waits nervously hoping to be introduced) “Nice to meet you.”

(Waits for a quiet moment and introduces himself) “You have a lovely home. I noticed you have quite a collection of books, are you an avid reader? My name is Tom by the way.”

(Hides, hoping to avoid introductions) “Nice to meet you.”

In a meeting at work

I love meetings, it is great to be able to talk through ideas in a group. I like the give and take, and always do a fair share of the talking.

I like getting together for meetings with everyone, but I’m too nervous to share my ideas.

Meetings tire me out. I like to think ideas through before I share my thoughts, and it’s hard to do in a meeting. I always take notes, and then follow-up with people once I’ve had a chance to sort through everything.

I am terrified of meetings. Not only is it too much listening to everyone banter about ideas, but I’m so nervous sitting there that I can’t even follow what is being said. I wish I could just hide at my desk.

If you still need help figuring out which side of the scale you're on, you can also take our introvert vs. extrovert test to learn more.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Heiser NA, Turner SM, Beidel DC. Shyness: relationship to social phobia and other psychiatric disordersBehav Res Ther. 2003;41(2):209-221. doi:10.1016/s0005-7967(02)00003-7

  2. Lei X, Yang T, Wu T. Functional neuroimaging of extraversion-introversionNeurosci. Bull. 2015;31:663-675. doi:10.1007/s12264-015-1565-1

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.