Although Psychology has already established itself as a full-fledged field of study that’s been around for over 100 years now, it remains the youngest and most elusive of all the social sciences to date. This is probably why it’s also chock-full of myths and misconceptions.
A lot of concepts from Psychology find their way into casual conversations, and most people are guilty of trivializing or oversimplifying the things they don’t fully understand. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, for example, is about more than just being neat and tidy; bipolar disorder isn’t about being moody; not all unhealthy relationships are toxic relationships; and being an introvert isn’t the same as being anti-social.
If you want to know more about that last one, here are 6 major differences between introversion and anti-social behavior:
1. Introversion is a Personality Trait
A personality trait is defined as a relatively enduring characteristic in a person that can be said to explain the consistency in their behaviors(Matthews, Deary, & Whiteman, 2003).Simply put, it means that being an introvert is a part of who you are and a part of what makes you unique. There aren’t really any good or bad personality traits.
As for anti-social behavior, people who display this are likely to have been diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder. A diagnosis is made up of several criteria to assess whether or not there is something wrong with the way someone is thinking, feeling, or behaving. People who are anti-social are what we would commonly call “psychopaths.”
2. Introverts Enjoy Socializing
Contrary to popular belief, introverts actually enjoy socializing as much as extraverts – they just crave it less. The “cortical arousal theory” explains that this is because extraverts have smaller frontal cortexes, meaning they need more external stimulation than introverts (Ricelli, et al., 2017; Eysenck, 1967).
Interestingly enough, this is also true for those with Anti-Social Personality Disorder, but the difference is much more extreme in their case. Not only is their frontal cortex smaller, but there also tends to be dysfunction in their amygdala. This is the reason, most researchers suspect, why they feel less fear and enjoy violence and destruction(Berger, 2016).
3. Introverts Can Have Relationships
A common issue among personality disorders is that those suffering from them have extreme difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, and Anti-Social PD is no exception. In fact, studies show that diagnosed psychopaths are almost entirely unable to relate to other people at all (APA, 2013). They don’t understand relationships, can’t empathize with another person, and seek only to exploit those around them.
Meanwhile, introverts are perfectly capable of having healthy, meaningful relationships with others. While they may have fewer friends than extraverts, this doesn’t mean that they’re socially inept in any way, unlike anti-social people. It’s simply a matter of personal preference.
4. Introverts Tend to Be Shy
Perhaps the easiest way to tell if someone is an introvert is if they seem shy when you first meet them. Unlike extraverts, introverted folk prefer to keep to themselves and listen more than they talk in conversations. They might be livelier or chattier around those that they’re close to, but they don’t usually enjoy being the life of the party.
On the other hand, anti-social people can be very outgoing when they need to be. They like to use their charm to manipulate those around them into giving them what they want. They can be bold, seductive, and loud-mouthed when they want to be– traits you’ll rarely ever use to describe an introvert.
5. Everyone Can Be Introverted
Famous personality psychologist Carl Jung was the first to introduce the idea that everyone could be introverted (Jung, 1921). Decades later, research has indeed confirmed his theory. Introversion is now considered to be one of the universal personality traits that people of different cultures, ages, and backgrounds have been found to possess in varying degrees (Costa & McCrae, 1992).In contrast, only a rare few of the population are actually considered to be anti-social (Patrick, 2005).
6. Introverts Don’t Need to Change
As with any mental illness, Anti-Social Personality Disorder is a serious condition that requires therapy and psychosocial intervention to treat. People diagnosed with this need to be rehabilitated for the lack of distress or remorse they feel for their wrongdoings. Psychopaths are dangerous, violent, and problematic.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. Introversion simply means that you enjoy being with yourself more than being with other people. It means that you’re more in touch with the internal world than the external one, and need time alone to recharge. Although introverts may sometimes seem socially awkward or detached from others, this is a far, far cry from being mentally ill.
So the next time you call an introvert out for not wanting to come to a party or for being quiet in a conversation, don’t just label them as “anti-social.” There are a lot of stereotypes about introverts, but confusing introversion for anti-social behavior is arguably the most harmful one.
Whether you’re an introvert yourself or have people in your life who are, don’t contribute to the stigma against introversion. Learn to celebrate the uniqueness that comes with being an introvert and try to educate yourself on all the things that make introversion so great.
- Matthews, G., Deary, I. J., & Whiteman, M. C. (2003). Personality Traits. Cambridge University Press.
- Ricelli, R., Toschi, N., Nigro, S., Terraccino, A., &Passamonti, L. (2017). Socio-Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience: The Biological Basis of Personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 179-208.
- Eysenck, H. J. (1979). The Inheritance of Extraversion-Introversion. ActaPsychologica, 12, 95-110.
- Berger, F. K. (2016). An Overview on Antisocial Personality Disorder. Cambridge, England; Cambridge University Press.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th Ed. Washington, DC, USA:APA Publishing.
- Jung, C. G. (1921). Psychological Types. Zurich, Switzerland; Rasher Verlag (Rasher Publishing) – translation H.G. Baynes, 1923.
- Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO PI (NEO-PI-R) and the Five Factor Inventory Model. Odessa, Florida; Psychological Assessment Resources.
- Patrick, C. J. (2005). Handbook of Psychopathy. Guilford Press.