Many introverted characters in pop culture are accepted and celebrated for their introversion; however, introverts in the real world don’t experience that. Introversion is seen as a problem or social hindrance instead of a quirky attribute.
In a society that prefers extroverts, being an introvert is challenging. Outgoing personalities are praised over soft-spoken and contemplative ones. Schools and open workplace environments are designed to cater to extroverts, and introverts are often forced to pass as extroverts.
But, what makes these two types different?
The idea that these two types are vastly different is a myth. There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Many people fall on a spectrum, somewhere in-between. Yet, we’ve assumed that these attributes depend on how a person relates to others. But, these traits are linked to how you respond to social stimuli.
Scott Barry Kaufman of The Imagination Institute explained the differences between how an extrovert’s and introvert’s brain engages in the e dopamine-reward system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that rewards behaviors and encourages you to repeat them again. In a way, it is also responsible for the habits you create, but I digress.
When it comes to introverts and extroverts, an extrovert’s brain is more motivated by social stimuli or rewards, for example, food and social status. When faced with these rewards or the expectations of a reward, an extrovert’s brain experiences more neurological activity. This activity is pleasant and motivates an extrovert to receive more social stimuli.
For an introvert, the experience is different. An introvert’s brain is more susceptible to dopamine increases. It gets overwhelmed by all the dopamine. Hence, the person fizzles out when placed in social environments with too much stimulation. Introverts do not thrive with healthy doses of dopamine. An introvert’s brain prefers acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a slow-releasing neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is also the primary reason why someone may prefer a quiet evening at home rather than being at a party. One theory posits that introverts may have more acetylcholine receptors than dopamine receptors.
Putting aside neurological differences, neither introverts nor extroverts are better, and there is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. As stated before, we all fall on a spectrum. Some just happen to lean more to either side, and few fall right in the middle.
But, why is it that we have to choose?
Growing up, I was led to believe that being introverted was bad. People around me frequently misconstrued my quietness as shyness, lack of confidence, or at worst, antisocial. I often dreaded parent-teacher conferences because the remarks always were: “She’s a great student, but she needs to participate more.” As if my quiet temperament was problematic.
Teachers and adults encouraged me to be more assertive and outgoing. While I knew they were using that word incorrectly because outspoken does not always mean assertive, I believed the fallacy. Therefore, I made concerted efforts to be more extroverted.
I spoke more during class, involved myself in more activities, and passed as someone who was overly social. But in reality, I was tired. It wasn’t that I did not want to be social, but I preferred to stay at home reading than going out. I ignored my instincts, and without realizing it, I was limiting my strengths.
Introverts have a quiet and understated power; known introvert Albert Einstein once said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulate the creative mind.” Hence, it is in quiet and calm environments that introverts do their best and profound thinking, which may be related to the neuro-psychological difference mentioned earlier. A 2016 study shows the relation of acetylcholine in learning and encoding new memories and information.
This trait biths artists, leaders, and deep-thinkers. Solitude and reflection allow us, not just introverts, to really do our best work– we are more imaginative and creative.
Western societies prefer extroverted individuals. Therefore, we assume that the person who speaks loudest has the best ideas. It is because of this bias that introverts are overlooked for leadership positions, but many world-respected leaders have been introverts: Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Issac Newton, Elenor Roosevelt, and Charles Darwin. So, it is often the soft-spoken person in the room who has the answers.
Consequently, introverts make phenomenal leaders. Traits that define introverts (i.e. good listeners and propensity to eschew micromanaging) make introverts good leaders. They give their peers free reign to work through problems to find their unique solutions. Introverts can be passionate; they just manifest it differently. While an extrovert may be more vocal, introverts usually take the lead when it is something they truly care about.
Unfortunately, introverts are forced to succumb to societal pressures. Everything in our society, from mandatory Zoom meetings, open concept offices, and forced group projects, works against introverts. But, the world needs introverts as much as they need extroverts. As a society, we should encourage and listen to introverts because their ideas can change the world.
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