Think of a party. Some people are at the center of the gathering—they are the ones who draw energy from other people and their surroundings. There are, however, others who seem relatively less spirited. Although they may enjoy the party and being with other people, they easily become tired and want to go back home to recharge themselves. These are signs of introversion, and these people are likely to be introverts. From entering college to working in a company, introverts do not have an easy life in Korean society; as such, some changes might be needed to accommodate everyone, not just those who are more forward about speaking out and making their voices heard.
Few would deny that Korean society is a difficult environment for introverts to survive in. Universities exhibit a preference for extroverts by trying to discern an applicant’s personality in a number of different ways, and the reality of many working environments is that they are shaped to suit extroverts. This social atmosphere has been present for some time now, and introverts have faced unjust inconveniences for quite a while. Perhaps it is time to more fully integrate the considerable population of introverts into Korean society.
There are many traits that differentiate introverts from extroverts. According to Shin Young Kyu, the head of the Korean MBTI Laboratory, one of the main standards that discerns them is the direction in which they aim their attention and energy. An introvert’s focus would be on one’s internal interests and thoughts, whereas an extrovert’s attention would be towards the outside environment and the surrounding people. Another defining trait is while extroverts tend to receive energy from outside stimuli, introverts are invigorated by their own personal world.
The terms introvert and extrovert were first coined by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung in 1921. According to a 2017 article in the magazine Psychology Today, Jung stated that introversion and extroversion were the two components of personality. Jung’s ideas influenced the creation of the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, which was developed to assess personality types. There are four axes used to discern personality types, and one of these, favorite world, determines whether one is an introvert or an extrovert.
▲ Shin Young Kyu, Head of the Korea MBTI Institute. PROVIDED BY SHIN YOUNG KYU
The Hurdles Facing Introverts
University entrance, a part of society of great importance to Koreans, seems to favor the qualities exhibited by extroverts. “Most universities in Korea tend to think that being a talented, ideal student requires having the traits of extroverts,” said Professor Kim Sanguk (Department of IT Management, Hanshin University), a former admissions officer. “This preference is likely to have been influenced by the traits that major corporations demand from their potential workers.” The methods which the universities use to select applicants also show signs of preference for extroverts. “The questions that are required to be answered in cover letters and the interview process reveal the personality types of the applicants, and this information is used to assess them,” said Professor Kim.
For their cover letters, applicants are asked to write about their most meaningful activities at high school. They are also asked to write about experiences in which they demonstrated caring, sharing, cooperation, or conflict management. As an answer, applicantsmostly write about group work that they have participated in, such as school club activities, or their social relationships. The questions are effective in discerning personality types, as the actions and the roles taken by applicants indicate whether they are introverted or extroverted. The interview stage also plays a similar role; it allows the interviewer to directly determine an applicant’s personality from their answers, or indirectly by examining their behavior during the interview.
It seems that many companies are also more suited for extroverts. Statistics from the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET) show that, in Korea, extroverts are able to land jobs more easily than introverts can. According to a 2016 report, those who were more extroverted had unemployment rates of 31.4 percent, while those who were more introverted had rates of 36.0 percent. Extroverts also tended to be paid more; the average monthly income for extroverts was higher than that of introverts by 740,000 won. These results indicate that not only are extroverts more preferred by employers, but also that the work environment itself suits their personality, allowing them to thrive.
According to a 2012 article by Pete Ross, many private businesses are structured to suit the traits of extroverts. Thus, it is more likely that extroverts will be promoted to higher positions in most corporations. According to a 2009 research reported by the Wall Street Journal, where Deniz S. Onez, and Stephan Dilchert studied 4,000 subjects in managerial positions. In this study, those workers with above-average extroversion dominated corporate management positions. According to Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, this is because “introverts are overlooked while extroverts are groomed for leadership positions.”
Why are Extroverts So Valued?
“Korean society may value extroverts more because they do not have a correct understanding of what kind of person an introvert is,” stated Professor Park Sun-woong (Department of Psychology). Often times, people confuse introversion with shyness or social anxiety. However, while these traits may coexist within an individual, it does not mean that shyness, social anxiety, and introversion are the same qualities.
Shyness, according to the American Psychology Association (APA), is the tendency to feel awkward in social interactions. According to the Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety is the fear of being judged negatively by other people. Introverts, on the other hand, may be perfectly good at socializing— they are just not as energized by it as extroverts are. Moreover, they do not necessarily go out of their way to avoid social situations because they do not have an irrational fear of others’ gazes. However, people who do not have a clear understanding of introversion are likely to group it with shyness and social anxiety. As a result, the negative impression that forms about the latter two concepts can transfer to introversion, leading society to prefer extroversion over introversion.
Another factor that may have influenced Korean society’s attitudes towards introverts is the growing reach of Western culture. In her 2012 interview with The Guardian , Cain stated that Western culture has always valued extroverts because being a skillful orator was valued in Ancient Greece and Rome. Western society came toprefer extroverts even more with the rise in the importance of capitalism in the 20th century. In order to succeed within a company, an employee had to be charismatic and at ease when dealing with people that they were unfamiliar with. These ideals probably crossed over from the West into Korea when Western culture melded with Korean society, leading Koreans to form similar opinions on extroverts and introverts.
▲ Professor Kim Sanguk. PROVIDED BY PROFESSOR KIM SANGUK
Introverts of Korea
According to Shin, statistics from the current form of MBTI (form M) show that 53.9 percent of Koreans are classified as introverts. This means that, while more than half of the population has introverted traits, the society is more inclined to suit extroverts. This environment is demanding for introverts, especially because it is difficult for them to become extroverts. “According to psychology research findings,” said Professor Park, “50 percent of whether someone is an extrovert or an introvert is genetically determined. Thus, it is difficult to forcibly change one’s personality.”
When introverts are subjected to an environment that is designed to suit extroverts, they experience a phenomenon called an introvert hangover. This occurs when the introvert feels fatigued when they socialize beyond their limits. When people receive outside stimuli, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released into their brains. Introverts have relatively lower thresholds for this, causing them to tire out more quickly compared to extroverts when subjected to similar levels of human interaction.are facing; this situation has gone on for far too long, and perhaps now it is time for change.
When Introverts Ruled the World
Unlike the excessive worship of extroverts in modern society, the premodern era valued introverts’ qualities to a greater extent. According to Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts (2016), a shift in attitude from a “Culture of Character” to a “Culture of Personality” occurred due to the mass migration of Americans from the countryside to cities in the early 20th century. The “Culture of Character” was based on a preference for people of deliberation and moderation due to the intimate relationships that developed in rural areas, meaning individuals did not necessarily need to reveal themselves to others. After migration to urban areas in the 1920s, however, the stranger-filled environments highlighted the importance of building stable relationships and triggered the “Culture of Personality.” More frequent communication and developing more outgoing characteristics were two inevitable adaptations for survival in industrialized society.
A fascinating fact is that the shift in the preference for one personality type over another has not acted in one direction; in fact, it has changed constantly throughout history. For instance, ancient Greece and Rome used to value rhetoric, which teaches ways to project energy outwards through speech. The embrace of rhetoric extended to medieval times, during which universities taught seven liberal arts as part of their curriculum, of which rhetoric was a major subject for future scholars.
In contrast, in the 16th and 17th centuries before industrialization, Puritanism, which centered around fulfilling the will of the God and welfare of humans, was dominant in England, so becoming a reverend or priest was popular and received respect from the public. People in such positions dedicated themselves to seeking profound knowledge about human nature, sometimes using meditation.
After industrialization, the population living in cities increased at a considerable rate. In 1695, only 5.5 million lived in a city, but by 1841, this had risen to 15.9 million, almost three times higher than the population during the pre-industrial revolution era, according to the article “Life in Industrial Towns” written by C. N. Trueman on The History Learning Site. Moreover, factories were constructed in cities, making use of the dense supply of human resources. Factory owners spent more time studying the consumers and the market, which led to more communication with target consumers; satisfying their various needs and adapting to changing cultural trends also became extremely important.
The internal American migration described above is an example of how the preference for certain personality types has changed over time. Today, the preference for extroversion is still prevalent worldwide and this has led to an exaggeration of an extrovert’s merits, positioning their strengths as qualities to be admired. However, it is important to note that history has not been dominated by only introverts or only extroverts. This fact indicates that, despite the historical uniqueness of different eras, both personality types have equal importance.
▲ Professor Park Sun Woong. PROVIDED BY KOREA UNIVERSITY
The Best Qualities of Introverts
Social values obviously change over time. But what are the invariable qualities of introverts that can contribute to the contemporary world? The answer to this starts with self-reflection.
Individuals are naturally limited in a number of ways. The problem is that they are often unaware of their limits. There have been many publications, such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1988) by Stephen Covey, that have focused on self-enrichment and that portray successful people who overcame their weaknesses and limits. These books always quote a similar phrase: “We can exceed our limits if we truly work with maximum effort.” The current social environment is one in which people do not accept the existence of human limits. However, intentional denial could lead to greater risks in life, from increasing this chance of getting into arguments to facing death.
Furthermore, what differentiates introverts from others is their embrace of their own private universe. This can allow them to be extremely productive and adamant about their decisions. A good example of this is the term memory palace. In academic terms, this is called the method of loci, which is a tactic of memorization that incorporates personal experience. Books such as Moonwalking with Einstein (2011) by Joshua Foer and Magnetic Memory Method (2014) by Anthony Metivier are representative examples. Despite the fictional settings, a drastic result of this can be seen in the British drama Sherlock, where the titular protagonist Sherlock Holmes uses his mind palace to conjure ideas and analyze crimes.
How Could the World Become More Favorable for Introverts?
“The loud always win.” This is a well-known Korean phrase used when people are arguing, demonstrating the remnants of the excessive preference for extroverts. In order to balance out the partiality toward extroverts, what needs to be done? An effective solution surely starts in places such as companies and universities.
When hiring new employees and figuring out how they will adapt to the company, most companies conduct interviews or group discussions with applicants. However, once again these are methods that favor those who channel their energy outwards. The only time during the hiring process an applicant can channel their energy into themselves is presumably when the applicants write their résumé. This cannot be considered a suitable opportunity for introverts because a résumé is a mere description. Description does not always reflect actions, and some people might lack the qualities written on their résumés when it comes to real life.
Moreover, white-collar jobs mostly require more sedentary work than active discussion. According to the 2017 Korea Occupational Outlook provided by Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS), office work had the second-biggest occupational cluster of any job. This type of work has also steadily shown the highest rate of increase from 2010 to 2015, with an annual average of 3.3 percent. Highly-sought jobs include clerks, accountants and CEOs, and thus primarily focus on paperwork, where ideas are created and shared. For the improvement of business practices, discussion is often used to collect ideas from employees. These ideas are evaluated, and the best ones used. This illustrates that there is a gap between the required qualities for desired jobs and the preference for extroverts which needs to be closed.
It is difficult for introverted applicants to show their potential in interviews and for the employers to appreciate their true abilities, so it could be argued that testing applicants during an internship is the answer. Internships are a suitable way to determine the qualities of applicants because it is possible to observe directly how they handle the work. When working in a company, the overemphasis on communication in society at large is not the best way to succeed. In any job, there are times when employees should work on their own, and this is when the quality of introverts stands out. Short-term internship programs would be much more effective than one-day interviews or group discussions because they better showcase the qualities of the applicants and shorten the training period for new recruits.
As for the college entrance examination, Professor Kim also claimed, “Despite introverts having disadvantageous conditions for passing the entrance examination, qualities expected from the pre-university students themselves possess both traits of introverts and extroverts.” University values such as freedom, justice and veritas are actually quite general which could be interpreted in numerous ways. For instance, freedom could be a vigorous act to make a speech for the repressed society or could be written as a well-refined book or an essay. This is why nonscheduled admissions primarily look for the transcript of school records to see what kind of extracurricular activity they joined.
Korea University (KU) changed the entire admission system at the 2018 college entrance examination by shifting the tests from essay writing to interviews. This could be interpreted as KU would equally seek for both traits. According to the MBTI traits, writing is more inclined to the introverted qualities. It means there are slightly more chances that introverts could get a better score and pass the college examination, which could cause reverse-discrimination. However, interviews first picked by academic skills and applicant’s school records have an opportunity to choose people with both traits.
▲ Septum arte liberals(Seven Liberal Arts) from "Garden of Delights". PROVIDED BY HERRARD VON LANDSBERG (C.1180)
Where Introverts Could Shine
Modern society’s dichotomous approach to the qualities of introverts and extroverts is outdated thinking. Separating introverts and extroverts originally occurred for the sake of clarification when the concepts were first coined. For example, in coining the term introvert, Carl Jung explained his own psychological concept called the shadow. According to him, the shadow represents inferior characteristics of people and superior characteristics are always the counterpart qualities of these. Jung thus positioned introverts and extroverts as counterparts.
Later, the next generation of psychoanalysts following Jung’s work elaborated on the meaning of the shadow for a better understanding of Jung. Various ambiguous qualities were thus classified as one of the two personality types. This categorization is now intertwined with the qualities required for modern jobs and it is interpreted in a way that encourages discrimination, such as picking extroverts over introverts. One should be aware that the concepts of introversion and extroversion are not clearly distinct from each other because there are ambiguous qualities that cannot be easily placed into one category or the other.
Moreover, Jung’s concept of the shadow also implies that everyone shares the qualities of being introverted and extroverted; in other words, an individual cannot be entirely introverted or extroverted. Jung believed that someone who was purely one or the other would be mentally ill. Differences in personality arise from where individuals stand on the continuum between introversion and extroversion, not by placing them in one of only two groups. Jung was worried that such extremism would backfire on a society that represses introversion. Accepting both introversion and extroversion and employing them where they are most beneficial would be better for society than embracing only one of them because it is not possible to completely suppress an individual’s nature. Clashing attitudes towards different aspects of human nature are still an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved.