The Problem with False Dichotomies

Here on Psych2Go, we like to write about the “typical” characteristics of certain kinds of personalities, such as introverts and extroverts. While it is not my intention to undermine these personalities, I do feel that it is important to point that it using such dichotomies can be problematic.

Dichotomous thinking forces us to oversimplify things. You are either an introvert or an extrovert. A republican or a democrat. Gay or straight.

These are called false dichotomies, and they have become inherently problematic, not only because they assume that you must belong to one or the other, but because they now have connotations that were probably never intended. An introvert, for example, is always a social outcast. An extrovert is always the “life of the party.” The stereotype that introverts are more creative, intelligent, and calm does not mean that introverts are better than extroverts. Luckily, articles like this one are debunking the myths surrounding the “typical” behaviors of introverts and extroverts.

I propose that true introversion and extraversion do not exist. Instead, people exist on a spectrum between the two. It’s okay to be more typically introverted one day and extroverted the next.

Consider these dichotomies:

Introverted – Extroverted

Conventional – Original

Calm – Temperamental

Active – Inactive

Confident – Self-conscious

Hardworking – Lazy

Independent – Conforming

Many personality tests ask you which of the two personality traits you most identify with. Now I don’t know about you but on some days I can be hardworking and productive, while on other days I get nothing done because I can’t be bothered.

This personality “inconsistency,” so to speak, is quite common. In fact, it’s the norm. While people usually lean towards one or the other, there are plenty of other factors that determine our personalities, including cultural differences and brain structure.

A lot of personality tests now ask you to rate yourself on a spectrum, such as this one:

This question was taken from 16 Personalities. In it you can see that you’re not being asked to 100% agree or 100% disagree, but instead to answer on a scale between the two.

Rejecting these dichotomies is not a profound, new concept. It’s already been discussed. But I think that it’s important to point out that these binaries can be problematic. Some people who identify as either an introvert or an extrovert tend to use their personality type has an excuse. If you identify as an introvert, for example, you might think that missing out on some social events is acceptable because you think you need to be alone. In actuality, it might be good for you to spend some time with friends.

Feel free to identify as one or the other, but just remember that it’s always possible – and not unusual – to exist somewhere on the spectrum. Let’s not oversimplify the complex and fascinating field of personality psychology.


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