A few weeks ago, I watched a TED Talk by Susan Cain, titled "The Power of Introverts." Having found the TED talk very interesting, I decided to checkout the book upon which the talk was based. Cain's book, "Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking," was super fascinating! And, in some ways, it really opened my eyes up to the fundamental differences in the way that we all experience the world.
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I used to think that people were all basically the same. And, a large part of me still wants to believe this because it makes the world much easier to understand. But, the fact is, it's not that simple - we all experience things differently. In The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, we saw that people feel love and appreciation in distinctly different ways. Now, in Quiet, Susan Cain shows us that introverts and extroverts experience the world in ways that may have a biological, chemical, and evolutionary foundation.
Our brains our different. Introvert and extrovert brains are different. In introverts, the part of the brain that regulates external stimuli allows a lot of information to come through. In extroverts, the same part of the brain keeps the flow of external stimuli relatively small. This means that introverts and extroverts don't just act differently - they literally "feel the world" differently. Stimulation that may not register for an extrovert may be overwhelming for an introvert.
The reward centers of our brains are also different. Extroverts tend to "buzz" much more easily than introverts. The rewards centers of the extrovert brain also light up for different reasons. Where the extrovert may prefer the "hunt", money, power, success, fame, and sex, the introvert may prefer solitude, thinking, problem solving, and intimacy.
Neither of these experiences are "wrong" or, "right." They are simply different. But, accepting that these differences may stem from a deep-rooted, possibly biological basis may help us to be a bit more understanding and accepting of each other.
Both the introvert and extrovert personalities have advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, as we have transformed from a character-driven society into a personality-driven society, we have made it harder for the introvert to thrive. As introverts, we have to re-learn how to leverage our own nature:
If you're an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence; the tenacity to solve complex problems; and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from the temptations of superficial prizes like money and status. Indeed, your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths. You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents; or, feel underestimated by those around you.
But, when you're focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless. So, stay true to your own nature; if you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don't let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don't force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It's up to you to use that independence to good effect.
So, are you an introvert? It's not black and white - introversion and extroversion is simply a continuum in which most people tend to lean one way more than the other. In the beginning of the book, Cain presents an informal assessment of True/False statements:
- I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
- I often prefer to express myself in writing.
- I enjoy solitude.
- I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status.
- I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
- People tell me that I'm a good listener.
- I'm not a big risk taker.
- I enjoy work that allows me to dive in with few interruptions.
- I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.
- People describe me as soft-spoken or mellow.
- I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until its finished.
- I dislike conflict.
- I do my best work on my own.
- I tend to think before I speak.
- I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
- I often let calls go through to voicemail.
- If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do than one with too many things scheduled.
- I don't enjoy multi-tasking.
- I can concentrate easily.
- In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.
The more often you answered "True", the more introverted you probably are. Most of the above statements are True for me. I am an introvert. However, I am an introvert that elects to adopt "free traits" expressed by the extrovert as a means to further my core values.
There's a lot more interesting information in the book, including 40 years of research on why group brainstorming is a complete waste of time (if not detrimental to progress). But, for me, the most profound take-away is the difference in how introverts and extroverts physically experience the world. I don't necessarily know how to process this information yet; but, I hope that it will make me more accepting of other people's point of view.
Also, if you're interested in Susan Cain's TED Talk, I have embedded it below:
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TED Talks are awesome!
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Ben, as always you are insightful and a joy to learn more about. Thanks for adding yet another book to my ever growing to-read list!
Nice article, Ben.
Thanks for posting this. I'm definitely an introvert as well, and try to push myself to be more social. I'll be checking out the book. I'm sure this could help a lot of programmers lol.
Just admit that you read that book because you thought its author was hot.
Yeah, I'm very much an introvert. I need time alone to decompress and process stuff. Sometimes, I don't leave the house for 2 or 3 days because I have plenty to do and I could use the long periods of not having to interact with other people.
Great review, Ben. What I like about Quiet is that it's not primarily a self-help book. She does offer some good advice, but her main purpose seems to be to campaign for a higher value to be placed on quiet, thoughtful people - or in fact a return to the values of an age when integrity mattered more than charisma.
I also like her writing style. I've read a few books on introversion and despite their claims to be introverts themselves, the authors always seem to come across as slightly annoying touchy-feely types. Susan Cain writes in a dispassionate, intelligent, matter-of-fact manner which adds to her credibility.
There are quite a few podcast interviews which are worth checking out, e.g. this one which she did when she visited us in the UK a few months ago: http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2012/quiet-the-power-of-introverts-in-a-world-that-cant-stop-talking
Gee Ben are you tracking my grad school career. Let me know when you get into hypnosis.
I'm rather skeptical of the filter idea of introversion and extraversion - its been around since A. Petrie's work in the 1950's. We just have not found enough information that supports it. That said, you can predict how well a person can tolerate pain from their extraversion scores - correlations average around .42 meaning about 16% of the variation in pain tolerance times can be directly predicted by measures of extraversion.
Instead of a sensory filter, I think an optimal level of arousal may be more accurate. Extraverts have a higher level than introverts.
That said introversion has some serious drawbacks, neophobia - fear of the new, conformity and acquiescence of the norm etc.
"That said introversion has some serious drawbacks, neophobia - fear of the new"
Cain argues that had the financial gunslingers who contributed to our current economic woes taken a more risk-averse approach, things might have turned out better.
Personally I back her campaign to re-think what we consider a drawback or a strength.
Classic introverts would never have been in that position in the first place. Classic series of studies done out of Eysenck's lab in the 60's looked at SCR readings and other measures of arousal. Generally those classified by their lab as introverts were ar more physiologically reactive to the environment around them as compared to those tagged as extraverts. Although with Eysenck lab they were more concerned how their three factor model (Extraversion, Neuroticism and Psychoticism) fared in reality.
Part of the issue hee is the language. you are using a much wider set of definitions than I. In this case neophobia refers to a consistent reaction to some form of arousal, be it a flashing light to the Metropolitan Opera doing the best of Freddy Mercury.
Very interesting, Larry, thanks. You should read Cain if you haven't. She cites Eysenck's studies of arousal, and subsequent critiques.
My point, and hers, is really that today's culture uses labels such as "phobia" and "drawback" to signal that the opposite qualities are what we want our successful people to have.
I guess you're saying that these are neutral psychological terms - which is a fair point, but language is important in defining our societal values (my grad studies were in linguistics).
You're right introverts wouldn't generally be drawn to the sharp end of financial trading, but the extroverts who were, were apparently encouraged to give free-reign to their arousal-seeking dispositions.
If there had been any introverts in the room, no-one would have listened to them. In the future let's hope they carry more weight.
Actually I've done some of that research myself. The whole area of Extraversion and arousability (yes that is a word) comes from an area of research that was championed by Pavlov - his concept of the strength of the nervous system. One way to look at extraversion according to this theory is not only how quickly does the signal attenuate (filter idea), but also how fast does the organism habituate to the novel signal (strength of the nervous system). My own research shows that there is moderately strong relationship (r=.41) between heat pain tolerance and scores on the Reducer-Augmenter and Extraversion Scales.But there were no differences in our sample of high, medium and low hypnotizable participants for our later hypnotic analgesia studies.
Fascinating, Larry. I thought research on this area started with Jung - had no idea it went back to Pavlov. Thanks for the insight.
Also to note is that the author does say that she uses the word "Introvert" in the more social/cultural way, which I believe has a wider meaning that than described by science. She also notes that her spelling is different (but I can't remember the details).
One thing that I have noticed - in myself - is that I have a time period where I am comfortable being around people. Typically it's like 2-hours. I can sit and talk and relax and have fun... but if something goes past 2/3-hours, my mind starts to panic a bit. I start to think things like,
"How much longer is this going to go on?"
"Is this ever going to end?"
What's crazy is that I have found that this has *nothing* do to with the people I am with. Whether it's complete strangers or life-long friends, I find the same thing kicking in. It's like my "social reservoir" starts to drain and I start to panic.
As I've gotten older, I've become more comfortable with the idea that I'm simply "that guy" - the one who's first to leave the party - the one that's worried about getting home for "bed time". And, as I've gotten comfortable with that, I've been much happier.
@Julian, it goes back even further. The ancient greek philosophers postulated four temperaments, one of which maps very nicely to extraversion. The cool stuff about Pavlov's and other Russian works is how it maps a personality trait to low level physiological responses to stimuli.
That's one of the issues in this research, where is the dividing line between STATE (what you feel like now) and TRAIT - long term behavioral/personality tendencies.
BTW Next time you're closing the bar at a conference I'll remind you of your being "that guy". ;)
Ben - your comment about wondering "how much longer will this go on" (no matter who you are with) rang true for me as well!
I'm comfortable being an introvert, but I'm still annoyed from time to time on the importance (and seeming preference) that extrovert characteristics are more preferable. Thanks for the review - I will check out the book and talk!
I used to be considered, without a doubt, unarguably, extroverted. Anyone who ever spoke to me for longer than, say, a minute, would've rated me on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being introverted and 10 being extroverted, an 11 or greater. That's how extroverted I was. But over time, I began to see much more benefit and value in being more internal and introspective, and a little more of an introvert. So I purposely became a bit more of an introvert intentionally. One thing that's interesting is that things you would think are easier for extroverts and more difficult for introverts...for example, public speaking, seemingly became more difficult for me after I made an effort to become more introspective and introverted. It may be that it was going to happen anyway, and that it was completely coincidental, or it could be that I got "out of practice" of those things, so to speak, or it may be something else or a combination of things that contributed to that. I have found, though, as I have attempted to polish my personality and perfect my sense of self discovery and try to get to know my true self better and who I really am, that it really depends on the situation as to whether I would classify myself at any particular time as an "extrovert" or as an "introvert". I think I am mostly naturally an extrovert, but in certain circumstances, I am clearly more comfortable being an introvert. An example is this: I am extremely introverted when it comes to work. I think as a programmer, that is extremely beneficial. At work, I like to get completely lost in my work and my code, and not really have any external stimuli come into play or be acknowledged by me at all. Socially, though, I am usually mainly still pretty extroverted. Except in the world of dating. And the reason for that is the extremely traditional upbringing I was brought up in...that in which the guy asks the girl and the guy pursues the girl. So while there may be some guys who prefer overly-aggressive women, I am not comfortable being that way, and I am sure that in terms of dating, I am seen as extremely introverted, because I just typically wait for the guy to ask me out. And if he doesn't...trust me, I have plenty in my life that keeps me busy. I don't sit and twiddle my thumbs on weekends by any means. :-) At the same time, from time to time, when a guy asks, if I like him, I do typically enjoy shuffling things aside to enjoy something good for awhile.
Arousal....arousability. Awesome. Some of my favorite subjects, non?
@Larry C. Lyons - very cool! I actually have gotten deeply into hypnosis. I am one of the few 10% of the population who is highly hypnotizable...I have allowed myself to ease into a very deep sleep using it. I actually have some insomnia problems, and I typically like to try to get to sleep "naturally"...but sometimes, the only thing that works is hypnosis. There are times when I can't get to sleep any other way and I hypnotize myself to go to a very deep sleep. Usually, though, when I go to sleep using that method, I have very deep, vivid dreams.
@Ben, I have rarely experienced those thoughts...that of thinking..."How much longer is this going to go on?" and "Is this ever going to end?" Consider yourself lucky, though, because I am on the other end of the spectrum where I awkwardly don't know when the appropriate time to leave is. There is, I think, an appropriate time to leave in most situations, and a time when you have overstayed your welcome, and it doesn't sound like you ever reach that point, but I am sure I do all too often. I feel like I often stay longer than I should, but I awkwardly don't know when that time is in those situations (so I end up staying longer than I should). One of the exceptions I can think of where those thoughts burdened my mind were when I had a boyfriend at the time, and I was thinking things like, "How much longer is this going to go on?" and "Is this ever going to end?" because I wanted to get on with the evening with him and get to enjoying him instead of being stuck with other people. :-) When I have people in my life who are so important to me, I put them at a huge priority over everyone else and other people who don't have as much important to my life. Not meaning to sound selfish or anything lol...but...
Um arousal used in a different way I think Anna. If you have access to a university library you may want to look up this article:
Temperament and personality: Origins and outcomes.
Rothbart, Mary K.; Ahadi, Stephan A.; Evans, David E.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 78(1), Jan 2000, 122-135. doi: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11
This article reviews how a temperament approach emphasizing biological and developmental processes can integrate constructs from subdisciplines of psychology to further the study of personality. Basic measurement strategies and findings in the investigation of temperament in infancy and childhood are reviewed. These include linkage of temperament dimensions with basic affective-motivational and attentional systems, including positive affect/approach, fear, frustration/anger, and effortful control. Contributions of biological models that may support these processes are then reviewed. Research indicating how a temperament approach can lead researchers of social and personality development to investigate important person-environment interactions is also discussed. Lastly, adult research suggesting links between temperament dispositions and the Big Five personality factors is described. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
My own opinion of hypnosis has changed somewhat since I first stated researching this area. I am more convinced that it is much more of a combination of how we focus our attention (major critical component), the person's belief in their ability to use hypnosis, and the defined social situation. So essentially its a combination of cognitive abilities and the social situation.
For instance several years ago I looked at the relationship between the person's belief in whether hypnosis is an effective means of pain control, how strong that belief was, experience with hypnosis and hypnotizability. Basically we gave the first admin of the belief questionnaire at part of a separate study that assessed most intro psych students. Then a few weeks later many of the same students participated in another questionnaire study, as far as they knew. The packet included the beliefs questionnaire again. After the questionnaire they were given a standardized hypnotizability assessment. BTW the vast majority (99.9% or so) were nieve participants - never had been hypnotized before.
We called back the highest and lowest 10%, and the exact middle 10%. We gave the participants the beliefs again. Next they put their hand into a bucket of ice cold water (look up cold-pressor test) for a baseline pain perception measure. After that they were given the beliefs questionnaire again. Next they were hypnotized, given hypnotic analgesia instructions and given the pain task again.
Aside from the predictable results of the highly hypnotizables showing the greatest pain reduction via hypnotic analgesia, we found that the beliefs questionnaire was a very strong predictor of of hypnotic analgesia. The questionnaire was able to predict over 56% of the variation in pain reports. This relationship strengthened depending on what belief measure you used - the one administered immediately before had the best predictor values.
Now how does this related to intoversion / extraversion. It doesn't really. We had enough data across this research and other studies I've done to show that extraversion isn't related to one's ability to use hypnosis.
I don't think we mean totally different things about arousal. I think I was talking about basically the same thing you were. Though the arousal I am referring to includes the typical type of arousal people talk about when they use the word, but is not referring solely to that. But it does include it, yes? It just isn't the only thing it is referring to. I love hypnosis. I used to hate getting my fingers pricked. I could handle a shot, but getting pricked for blood testing really hurt and bothered me. But after I learned hypnosis, I used it, not only for helping myself go to sleep, but also for numbing my fingers before getting pricked for blood. Although I never feel it anymore, it's undoing years of anxiety over it, so I still get anxiety right before the prick comes, but I just don't feel it anymore...and my hope is that over time, I will lose also the anxiety, or at least most of it if not all of it, through hypnosis and a collection of much better finger-pricking experiences through that.
getting your finger pricked - you need to change your lancet and set the depth to a lower number (assuming a blood glucose test here).
In fact you probably don't need hypnosis at all, it sounds like your methods would be just as effective as using something like progressive relaxation etc.
BTW as someone with Type I diabetes I am very familiar with doing such.
Wonderful insights of your own here. Would love to read this book. Each day of our life we are surrounded with both introverts and extroverts.,, we consciously or subconsciously learn of people everyday. Would be great to read of a different point of view and understanding of personalities.Thankx.