Introverts vs Extroverts: Differences in Physiology

Introverts (Including Highly Sensitive Introverts)

Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts They often have an ongoing dialogue with themselves. Since this is such a familiar experience, they may not realize that other minds work in different ways. Some introverts aren’t even aware that they think so much, or that they need time for ideas or solutions to “pop” into their heads. They need to reach back into long-term memory to locate information. This requires reflection time without pressure. They also need to give themselves physical space to let their feelings and impressions bubble up. During REM sleep or while dreaming, this pathway integrates daily experiences and stores them in long-term memory, where they are filed in many areas of the brain. Introverts are in a constant distilling process that requires lots of “innergy.”

Common Physiological Behaviors of Introverts

  • Reduce eye contact when speaking to focus on collecting words and thoughts; increase eye contact when listening to take in information
  • Surprise others with their wealth of information
  • Shy away from too much attention or focus
  • Appear glazed, dazed, or zoned out when stressed, tired, or in groups
  • May start talking in the middle of a well—might stumble around when explaining their job or temporarily forget a word they want to use
  • May think they told you something when they just have thought it
  • Are clearer about ideas, thoughts, and feelings after sleeping on them
  • May not be aware of their thoughts unless they write or talk about them
  • May have trouble getting motivated or moving, might appear lazy
  • May be slow to react under stress
  • May have a calm or reserved manner; may walk, talk, or eat slowly
  • May need to regulate protein intake and body temperature
  • Must have breaks to restore energy


Extroverts are alert for sensory and emotional input. When they get stimuli, they can answer quickly because the pathway is rapid and responsive. Their short-term memory is on the tip of their tongue, so while the introvert is still waiting for a word, the extrovert has spit out several. Extroverts need more input to keep their feedback loop working. Their system alerts the sympathetic nervous system, which is designed to take action without too much thinking.

Common Physiological Behaviors of Extroverts

  • Crave outside stimulation; dislike being alone too long
  • Increase eye contact when speaking to take in others’ reactions; decrease eye contact when listening to notice what’s happening in the environment
  • Enjoy talking—and be skilled at it; feel energized by attention or the limelight
  • Shoot from the lip, and talk more than listen
  • Have a good short-term memory that allows quick thinking
  • Do well on timed tests or under pressure
  • Feel invigorated by discussion, novelty, experiences
  • Make social chitchat easily and fluidly
  • Act quickly under stress
  • Enjoy moving their bodies and exercising
  • Have high energy levels, not need to eat as often
  • Be uncomfortable if they have nothing to do
  • Slow down or burn out in mid-life

In addition to the above, the behaviors of introverts and extroverts depend on whether they are primarily “right-brained” or “left-brained”. Each half of the mature brain has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own style of processing information and unique skills.

Right-brained tendencies

  • Be playful in solving problems
  • Respond to events with emotion
  • Interpret body language easily
  • Have a good sense of humor
  • Process information subjectively
  • Improvise
  • Use metaphors and analogies when describing something
  • Deal with several problems at once
  • Use hands a lot in conversation
  • Notice patterns and think in pictures
  • See solutions as approximate and evolving
  • Not realize all that you know

Left-brained tendencies

  • Analyze pros and cons before when describing something
  • Think in terms of right and wrong; good and bad
  • Process experiences objectively
  • Be keenly aware of time
  • Proceed one step at a time
  • Not pick up social cues easily
  • Like to categorize
  • Be idea-oriented
  • Be comfortable with words and numbers
  • Seek exact solutions

Play to Your Strengths Introverts

It is important for introverts to know their brain dominance to understand themselves better. Left-brained introverts may be more comfortable living life as an introvert. They may have fewer social needs, so they may not be as conflicted over spending time alone. Often they are more verbal and logical than right-brained introverts, so they are able to succeed better at school, work, and in meetings. Many engineers, accountants, and computer jocks fit this profile. Since these individuals notice they are different.

Right-brained introverts have numerous talents, but many of them are difficult to translate into traditional job skills. They are creative and may seem eccentric or curious to others. The term starving artists was coined for these folks.

Since right-brained introverts feel more emotions and see the big picture, they may feel quite sensitive about their differentness.

Source: The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

As a highly sensitive introvert, I am certainly more left-brained. How do you see yourself? Do the above behaviors seem all too familiar to you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section provided.

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Published by W. M. Brown

I am a retired U.S. expat living in Ecuador. I was a business owner for 32 years before retiring in 2012.

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