I noticed some people in chat saying there's a big difference between shyness and being introvert:

I am both extremely outgoing and extremely introverted. shyness definitely isn't the same thing as being an introvert

Now I've always thought of "introvert" and "extrovert" as meaning roughly the same as "shy" and "outgoing" respectively. What's the difference, and how is it possible to be both outgoing and introvert?

  • 3
    Is it not more of ELL/ELU question ? Jun 28, 2017 at 11:40
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    @AnkitSharma definitely not. It is not about words, but more about concepts. For example in my native language there is words for intraversion/extraversion and for being shy/outgoing, and the question is same, is there a difference, or is it different sides of the same character feature.
    – Alissa
    Jun 28, 2017 at 15:16
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    I like this, I'm concerned we'll run ourselves out of scope if we don't allow some discussion around the terms we're using. But that's just a thought.
    – user57
    Jun 28, 2017 at 15:27
  • 3
    Related meta question.
    – HDE 226868
    Jun 28, 2017 at 20:54
  • One example might be someone (A) who is reading a book on the train and sees person B insulting person C. If A is an introvert, A might say, "Sorry, but I need to speak up about this." If A were shy, A would only picture themselves saying that, or A might say "someone more social than me would/could do something."
    – aschultz
    Jun 30, 2017 at 2:54

2 Answers 2


Extraversion/introversion refers to how your social interactions relate to your mental/emotional energy levels. An extrovert feels as if they gain energy by interacting with people, while an introvert feels like those interactions cost them energy. This question is independent of how much you like people generally, or whether you like big or small groups. You can be an extrovert who only likes small groups, or an introvert who loves being the centre of attention of a big group, but who feels drained very quickly.

I had thought that shyness didn't really have a specific meaning, but Wikipedia tells me it does. It covers a range of things including:

  • low self-esteem
  • social stress and anxiety, which can be a mental illness
  • social phobias

I would add that some people present as shy as a means of getting attention. This can be seen in children particularly I think. "Oh, poor Johnny won't come out to say hello to the guests. Poor Johnny, we better go check that he's okay." Many kids quickly learn how to manipulate the adults around them. :)

The Wikipedia pages on both topics don't seem particularly clear to me, which suggests that there's a lot of disagreement over what these terms mean and how they should be used. I think extrovert and introvert are fairly widely used in the way I defined above. I don't think "shy" has much of a consistent meaning at all, and would recommend using clearer alternatives instead.

  • 1
    Great description of introversion and extroversion. I would say that shyness is insecurity in participating to social situations or a fear of the unknown in social situations. Of course, when pushed to the extreme, we likely get to personality disorders.
    – Hawker65
    May 17, 2018 at 16:04

Shy and introversion are different things that result in similar social results when compared in a single scenario.

Being shy is a mild form of social anxiety. Which means the person is nervous, hesitant and uncomfortable with interacting with people even when they want to. Shy people are more likely to avoid conversation in the same way a fear of heights may prevent you from climbing the monkey bars despite seeing other kids having fun.

Introversion is a preference for solitary activity that is stronger than the preference for social interaction. So given the choice between going to a party and finally finishing that book, the introvert is more likely to prioritise the book.

Extroversion is a preference for group activity and social interaction. Given the choice between a party and reading, the party takes priority.

Between a shy person and an introvert both prefer to avoid socialising, so shy and introversion appear the same, especially when compared against the extrovert.

The more obvious difference between the shy person and the introvert is in their social skills. A shy person would have constant problems trying to handle new people and by choosing to avoid people they would rarely be able to practise their social skills. That becomes a perpetual cycle - no practice, no skills, no way to improve and get over the nervousness.

An introvert simply chooses not to socialise but doesn't have a problem interacting when required or when they want to. Therefore the introvert would be able to develop their social skills.

So the phrase "extremely outgoing and extremely introverted" isn't contradictory. It just means that when present in a single social situation the introvert in question is as outgoing as the extrovert. They just don't attend social situations as much compared to the extrovert.

For example, if you held a party twice a week for a month - At the same party you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the introvert and the extrovert, but you would if you monitored their attendance over the month.

In (simplified) summary the shy person wants to socialise but can't, the introvert can but won't, the extrovert can and will while the outgoing person will socialise regardless of their ability.

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