Extraversion and introversion are a central dimension in the Big Five personality model (or OCEAN model). Being introverted or extraverted may not be mutually exclusive, but, when averaging out over all contexts, one of the two will tend to dominate, if only slightly.

If it's at all possible, what's the most reasonable trajectory from the typical 1:1 to 2:1 extravert:introvert ratio to something of the order of 2:3?


  • The approximate target ratio refers to all of humankind
  • No faster than 3 generations of change, and no slower than 16
  • Preferably lasts about 500 years or longer
  • Do's
    • Environmental, social or economic solutions, or any combination thereof, except where forbidden below
  • Don'ts
    • Side effect of reduction in general willingness to trade; that would close off a door for the poor to make a better living
    • Cultural hegemony at any time, whether regional or universal
  • Start anytime; the first point of divergence needn't be as late as the 21st century
  • Please explain your answer. If you were to, say, tell me more people start living on islands, you'd need to be very convincing...
  • To a first approximation, 'most reasonable' means 'most probable'

Note that if you feel this challenge is too difficult, you're allowed to have your answer change only observable behaviour, as opposed to genetics or something, to match introversion more. The constraints apply regardless.

  • $\begingroup$ Question in the title and the question in the text do not seem to match? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 24 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi Title edited. $\endgroup$ – subdermatoglyphic Apr 24 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ Jeopardy!: what is coronavirus? $\endgroup$ – genesis Apr 24 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ There's a reason why I chose my constraints, especially the time frames. Multiple reasons actually, but you know what I mean. $\endgroup$ – subdermatoglyphic Apr 24 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ The overwhelming majority of people are only very slightly extroverts or introverts; they are just people. I don't see why increasing the number of people with very slight introvert tendencies will change anything much. Moreover, nobody knows how those personality traits arise, whether they are completely determined by biology or have, in part, an acquired component. As far as we know, people simply are (most usually, only slightly) introverts or extroverts. Since nobody knows what causes such personality traits, I doubt that anybody could tell how to effect the required change. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 24 at 9:12

A good 'trajectory' might be hard to plot, since extraversion and introversion are very complex, highly hereditary (as recognised by Marti Olsen Laney, PsyD) and so forth. Still, we can try.

If we're trying to reduce the extravert:introvert ratio, I'd say we have two main tasks: (i) make the tangible and intangible environment more likely to give rise to introverts than it was before; (ii) empower introverts to have greater reproductive, and similar forms of, influence.

(i) No doubt you've heard some variant of the saying that architecture/[insert thing] is a reflection of society and vice versa. Well, as cliche as that sounds, it often makes a certain sort of sense. Basically, you'll need to change the general infrastructure, material or otherwise, so that it promotes introverted behaviour more than extraverted behaviour.

(ii) The first thing we ought to remember is that we don't need to make sure every introvert is thus empowered. Because of the mild flexibility of your requirements, we can say helping a large fraction of introverts and 'potential' introverts to help themselves will do the job.

Steps you can take

  1. Mostly addressing the behavioural manifestation of extraversion and introversion: Tweak the tech path to make urban planning more suited for lifestyles that we would call introverted. Nice 'traditional' architecture, resource-frugal cities...
  2. Addressing an underlying mechanism of extraversion and introversion: Give humankind reasons to limit reward sensitivity. This does sound exceedingly vague, but to give a concrete if not precise example, instead of letting the physical and socioeconomic environments be highly motivating, stimulating, exciting and energising to extraverts, have them be full of suitably sized traps that people are certain to fall into if they just seek rewards blindly. Also make it such that if these traps are bypassed there are many, and substantial, returns on investment, so to speak, to encourage 'introverted thinking'.
    • To take a slightly different perspective, allow low-impact crises that must be solved by reflection rather than blind socialisation to happen irregularly and very frequently throughout world history, encouraging the introversion-associated tendency to plan.
  3. Addressing an underlying mechanism of extraversion and introversion: Indirectly discourage ready or high mental arousal by reducing certain basic reasons for arousal. Come up with creative reasons for island-like or similar communities to be the norm. If you want idea competition to keep going strong even in this environment; that is, if you don't want a bunch of insular societies; no problem, since it isn't mutually exclusive with 'island-like communities'. But you'll have to get creative again.
  4. Changing societies to favour introversion: Cultural shift is extremely difficult to predict. You're very lucky you're an author of alternative-history fiction. To 'turn the tables' on extraversion-biased cultures in such a way that the introvert advantage will last five whole centuries, even approximately, there are few shortcuts. You could try the following.
    • Training. (This is not to be confused with education. You do not grant individuals competence by blogging alone.) People with sufficient time and money might produce analogue and, should the world be 'sufficiently far along' technologically, digital tools introverts could use to be better at achieving their social-interaction-related goals out there in the jungle of society.
    • Appropriate involvement in politics. Specifically, introverts in extraversion-biased cultures must make tremendous efforts to reduce the incentives that favour those who seek power. But they must be subtle, because presumably extraverts seeking power will have people and other resources on their side and rally these resources against behaviour they find objectionable.
    • Cutting losses. Introverts may wish to, if possible, associate less with people who use others as an emotional crutch rather than functioning by themselves. Also, introverts could better pick their battles and go off alone to express their intellect, imagination and planning for the future instead of arguing with people who see no value in doing so. (I'm not recommending that introverts treat poorly the friends, family and neighbours they have reason to treat well!) All this must be gradual, since opponents probably have many weapons they'll let loose at the slightest hint of provocation. Note the possible unexpected difficulty of doing this as a member of a complex technological civilisation where almost every person depends on lots of other people.
  5. Notable suggestions that may or may not further your goal:
    • You probably can't stop the rise of highly scalable communications technology and usage of such technology for entertainment, but you can have introverts, as individuals or in small groups, mount defences against the overreach of such technology and entertainment.
    • Extremely delayed invention of philosophies that would urge that involuntary institutions provide support for the well-being of people and society. This would lead to a change in the nature of social interactions. Whether the likelihood ratio of extraverted behaviour to introverted behaviour would really fall remains to be seen.
    • Increased aversion to economic decisions that reveal 'sociability', impulsivity and status-seeking tendencies. Since things such as modern advertising techniques rose to dominance in the 20th century in real-life history, this aversion probably has to be introduced earlier to have less risk of being instantly negated. Food for thought: was economic choice always possible for individuals and large groups, and has this differed between societies?
    • Everyone has both introversion and extraversion as elements of his/her personality. And not only does a personality have the capacity to make you do either 'introverted' or 'extraverted' activities, but people also display different personalities in different contexts. Come up with a concerted decades-long public-relations campaign that appeals to overall-extroverts' introverted side(s) without making it explicit (else they might start their own, opposed PR campaign just for the sake of it). Obviously, patience, money and dedication are required even to prevent such efforts from fizzling out or turning counterproductive.

I did my best, and found a few roads to the goal, some of which would indirectly lead to increased genetic (genetic $\approx$ sustainable) dispositions towards introversion, but that's all. If you think about it, 500 years is very long.

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The medieval period may have been like this

While it is hard to measure introversion in historical societies, I suspect you will find a lot more introversion in the medieval period than you see now.

Most world religious, political, and economic systems today favor extroverts by ensuring that society rewards those who seek others out. But there are many historical examples of things that punish the extrovert and reward the introvert instead.

Religion: Most modern nations support the freedom of religion which means that one can actively participate in society regardless of faith. However, in a nation with a state enforced religion, those who do not agree with the religion will be more prone to isolate to avoid the danger of revealing thier descension, than to widely socialize and risk being turning over to the inquisition over a slip of the tongue.

Politics: A strict hereditary caste system reduces the impact of how much you can improve your life through socialisation; so, it is better to focus on yourself to be the best Farmer, Blacksmith, Miller, etc. that you can make yourself instead of looking to other people to elevate you above your current station in life to become something greater than you are. This also adds a much greater risk to "overreaching" where socializing beyond your station can easily lead to downfall.

Economics: Serfs and slaves literally did not have the right to socially gather. If 2/3 of your population is forbidden to have social gatherings, then they will have to behave introverted by modern standards out of necessity regardless of thier natural inclinations. This alone could give you your 1:2 ratio on a solely behavioral basis.

How this fits with your criteria

  • Feudalism, slavery, and forced religion were common across all continents to some degree throughout most of the pre-modern era. While you would not see the same ratios in all nations, it could easily average out to a significant difference compared to the modern world.

  • The period of about 800-1300 CE would have probably seen the height of these factors giving you your 500 year period. The world has never been 100% one way or the other, but nations where feudalism, slavery, and forced religion replaced free societies, typically saw such changes happen over the course of 3-16 generations.

  • While this closes off a door for the poor to make a better living, this does not interfere with trade since the medieval period saw plenty of trade conducted by state sponsored and middle class merchants. So, I'm not sure if this is an issue or not for your "don'ts" list.

  • The medieval period did not have a single cultural hegemony, but instead had hundreds of culturally diverse nations which mostly so happened to shared the same disregard for human rights.

  • These conditions are very probable in that they are historical. It is hard to say what the actual levels of social isolation were without being able to study these conditions in a current society, but I suspect they were significant.

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    $\begingroup$ Nobody was disregarding human rights in the Middle Ages. They couldn't disregard them, for the obvious reason that human rights were invented more than two centuries after the end of the Middle Ages. (And, at least in Europe, there was basically no privacy in the medieval society. As in, almost none at all. Not a good time for introverts.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 28 at 1:48

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