Understanding introverts in modern society
Personality is perhaps the most distinct aspect of our individuality. Our behavioral, emotional, temperamental, and mental attributes characterize our individual being. Oft one hears about this personality continuum: whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert (also known as extravert). I have pondered this subject for quite some time which has finally led me to write this article. This article attempts to put out points made by known scientific, psychiatric, and psychotherapeutic research papers about introverts and introversion.
The aim of this article is to discuss the personality traits of introverts and put right common incorrect conceptions surrounding their individuality. The contents of this article are largely based on published research papers, scientific studies, and public interviews outlined in the References section. However, the ideas presented herein are entirely my own.
Who are introverts?
The terms "introvert" and "extrovert" were made popular by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the 1920s. Jung proposed a set of theories which later formed the basis for the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). According to WordNet, an introvert is "a person who tends to shrink from social contacts and to become preoccupied with their own thoughts" while an extrovert is "a sociable person who is lively and outgoing." Right from the definition, the reader is informed that extroverts are fun to be around with whereas introverts are shy and dull. And that, is what the majority of our modern society have also come to behold.
Linda Silverman, in her paper Introversion and Giftedness, wrote: "the main difference between introverts and extraverts is the source of their energy; extraverts get energy from people and objects outside of themselves, whereas Introverts gain energy from within themselves." Further in her paper, Silverman presented a comparison table which stipulated several personality differences between introverts and extroverts, of which some serve as the basis for this discussion: extroverts feel energized by people, think out loud, and learn by doing whereas introverts feel drained by people, mentally rehearse before speaking, and learn by observing.
According to a study by Debra L. Johnston et al., Cerebral Blood Flow and Personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study, introversion correlates with blood flow in the lateral extent of the frontal cortex, which means introverts do more internal processing than extroverts. The study also discussed that because of the higher blood flow in the frontal lobes, introverts engage in frontally based cognition which includes "remembering events from their past, making plans for the future, or problem solving" more than extroverts. Therefore, the "introspective" nature of introverts may correctly be attributed to the analytical psyche that they possess.
Introverts are often considered shy and thought of to lack creative ideas. However, according to the famous physicist Albert Einstein, "the monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind." Also, Silverman in her paper stated that studies conducted at her children development center, Gifted Development Center, showed that "more than 75 percent of the children above 160 IQ [were] introverted." Can we therefore deduce from this assertion and the earlier averment of introverts having a higher analytical psyche that introversion correlates with intelligence?
Introversion vs extraversion today
Society once cherished inner strength, integrity, and the good deeds you performed when no one was looking, but now values gregariousness, thinking out loud, and chattiness. Overconfidence is the order of the day—promote yourself! On the contrary, introverts would rather listen and draw from conversations rather than to actively try to attain verbal supremacy. Modern workplaces are deliberately designed to be open in order to facilitate interaction and socializing, which gives rise to distraction, which, in turn, inhibits creativity and to some extent loss of productivity.
Susan Cain expressed in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, that the modern world advocates "the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight." Cain, a self-described introvert, practiced corporate law for seven years before quitting for a quieter life as a writer because of the difficulties she faced in the corporate environment as a Wall Street lawyer. Further in her book, she highlighted how society vilifies introversion leading to "a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness."
Emma Watson, an English actress and model popularly known for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series, also identifies herself as an introvert. She said in an interview with Rookie Magazine that "extraverts in our society are bigged up so much, and if you're anything other than an extravert you're made to think there's something wrong with you . . . because I don't want to go out and do what all my friends want to do." Many other famous performers also identify themselves as introverts, which goes on to affirm a very concrete and important fact that introverts are not in any way less creative or talented.
The modern society embraces impulsivity rather than thoughtfulness. For example, students are given bonus points for their quick problem-solving skills in classrooms; lawyers are praised vociferously for their verbal domination and assertiveness in courtrooms; salespeople who are great at using superlatives are hailed without intent consideration on what they're selling. How come ground-breaking innovations often originate with startups whereas the big corporations have the brightest minds? As Paul English, co-founder and CTO of Kayak, said in an interview with Adam Bryant: "no innovation happens with 10 people in a room." What does this really mean? It means, simply yet elegantly, dedicated thinking is superior to brainstorming.
Introverts are not shy. Neither are they social outcasts. Although many shy people tend to be introverts, one major difference between an introvert and a shy person is this: introverts prefer solitary activities because they find it more rewarding to do so, whereas shy people avoid social events out of fear of humiliation. Introverts are most often also perceived to be unfriendly, rude, anti-social, and/or even unhappy. Fallacious! They simply get recharged by being alone instead of around other people. In other words, they treasure solitude.
Most people of today don't really listen to each other when conversing; they simply exchange words without necessarily communicating any better. On the other hand, introverts think more deeply and concentrate better. They are less bothered about money and status, are more sensitive, moral, altruistic, clear-sighted and persistent. An anonymous commenter once posted:
When I was a freshman in college I noticed that the extroverts loved to gather after dinner and chat and chat and chat in the common space of the dorm. As part of a psychology experiment, I tape recorded them and listed the topics they discussed and rated them on levels of depth and connected conversations. As best I could tell the extroverts were remarkably shallow in their discussions and it seemed that each of them was just waiting for the other person to stop talking so they could say whatever was on their mind.
The referenced studies combined with other research materials establish that human personality traits are based on individual differences in brain function. It is therefore important that we all comprehend that introversion is a normal variant of human behavior. Despite all of the above, as Jung put it, "there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert; such a man would be in the lunatic asylum." In fact, being on one part of the continuum doesn't mean that one's behavior is predictable across all circumstances. Introversion isn't a defect; it's a way of life.
- Evans, Richard I., and Jung, Carl G. Jung on Elementary Psychology: A Discussion Between C. G. Jung and Richard I. Evans. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.
- Gale, Anthony. Personality of Individual Differences. (Volume 4, Issue 4). Elsevier Ltd., 1983.
- Debra L. Johnson, Ph.D., John S. Wiebe, M.A., Sherri M. Gold, Ph.D., Nancy C. Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., Richard D. Hichwa, Ph.D., G. Leonard Watkins, Ph.D., and Laura L. Boles Ponto, Ph.D. Cerebral Blood Flow and Personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study. Am J Psychiatry, 1999.
- Silverman, Linda. Introversion and Giftedness. The Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, 2001.
- Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Crown Publishing Group, 2012.
- Goudreau, Jenna. The Secret Power Of Introverts. Forbes.com, 2012.
- Extraversion and introversion. Wikipedia, 2013.
- Tavi. I Want It to Be Worth It: An Interview With Emma Watson. Rookie Magazine, 2013.
- Bryant, Adam. Paul English of Kayak, on Nurturing New Ideas. The New York Times, 2013.
- Shocker, Laura. 16 Outrageously Successful Introverts. The Huffington Post, 2013.