Wellesley Research on Introversion Is the Subject of a Top New York Magazine Article

July 8, 2015
An artist's rendition of an introverted "The Thinker"

What is introversion? The answer depends on who you ask.

"When you survey a person on the street, asking them to define introversion, what comes up as the prototypical characteristics ... are things like thoughtful or introspective," Jonathan Cheek, professor of psychology, told New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog. Cheek teaches Personality Psychology and conducts research on shyness, self-concept, and identity orientations. His recent research on introversion was the subject of an article that has spent more than a week on the magazine site’s “most viewed stories” list.  

It turns out, neither “thoughtful” nor “introspective” are offered as definitions in scientific literature. In personality research, the New York Magazine article said, introversion is actually typically defined by what it’s not: if extroverts are assertive and enthusiastic individuals who thrive in highly stimulative social environments, introverts are the opposite.

"Many people do not feel identified or understood just by the label introversion as it's used in the culture or by psychologists. It doesn't do the job — it helps a little bit, but it just doesn't get you very far," Cheek told New York Magazine. "It turns out to be more of a beginning."

The gap between the "scientific" and "common-sense" definitions of introversion led Cheek and colleagues, including Jennifer Grimes ‘05 and Courtney Brown ‘15, to look beyond a one-size-fits-all definition. Grimes and Brown were psychology majors who each did their BA Honors Thesis with Professor Cheek.

They have proposed that there are actually four shades of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained (acronym STAR) and, rather than demonstrating one type only or one type over the others, many introverts are actually a mix of all four types.

For more information on the research and the personality types, including a quiz (“What Type of Introvert Are You?”) read the article, “So, Apparently There Are Four Types of Introversion” on the New York Magazine Science of Us blog. Or find an abbreviated explanation of the four types on BusinessInsider.com.