There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding introverts and what they have to offer socially in our modern society. Although the stereotypes surrounding introverts vary, they generally depict someone who is completely anti-social, without friends, who prefers to engage deeply in their own thoughts rather than share a life with others. These ideas are all patently false.
Introverts enjoy a rich inner life, and although it may require a bit of effort in order to share it with others, they are eager to express themselves and enjoy being active members of society. Here are a few things you may not have known about introverts and a few tips on how to best engage with them.
It’s sometimes more complicated for introverts to process information than it is for extroverts
Studies have shown that the neural pathways of introverts are often more complicated than those of extroverts. While extroverts have pathways that run straight from processing the stimuli to coming up with a plan of action, the neural pathways of introverts often pass through the regions of the brain associated with long term memory and planning. This means that instead of just coming up with a simple solution, introverts often contextualize the new information by comparing it to previous situations, then work out a plan accordingly. This would explain why many introverts are so emotionally aware. It takes them much longer to process their feelings, leaving them more sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
Introverts in general spend more time in thought than extroverts
Because of the complicated neural pathways through which they process information, introverts spend much more time in thought than extroverts. This doesn’t make them smarter, but it does mean that they spend much more time comparing their past experiences to their current situation, and trying to extrapolate meaning from it. Introverts spend much of their time in dialogue with themselves, while an extrovert’s simpler neural pathway spares them from that circular way of thinking.
Introverts are more easily over-stimulated than extroverts
Psychologist Hans Eysenck has studied the neutral processing of introverts and extroverts, and his recent conclusion was that it took much less stimulation in the mornings for introverts to become fully awake. This means that in general, introverts need less stimulation than extroverts to become over-stimulated. This could mean the difference between enjoying a loud, busy party and finding it all a bit overwhelming. This explains why for some introverts, a smaller social gathering is much more conducive to conversation than a large, loud event.
Introverts aren’t anti-social
If you’re an introvert, chances are you’ll spend your life dodging accusations of being anti-social. The next time this happens to you, explain that because of an introvert’s high sensitivity to dopamine, they often need less of it to feel happy. Reading a book or watching a movie with a friend will often bring a happiness that for an extrovert is only matched by a great party or a wild night out on the town. Many introverts do love to socialize, but require a bit of alone time first to charge their batteries and prepare for the effort of socializing.
Introverts generally have a higher amount of grey matter in their brain, allowing them more space for abstract thought.
A study from Harvard University in 2012 found that although there was no discernable size difference in the brains of introverts and extroverts, the difference that they did find was in the prefrontal cortex. This is the area of our brain that is often called “grey matter” and it is primarily responsible for our abstract thoughts and decision-making processes. The smaller amount of grey matter would explain why some extroverts find it so easy to make snap decisions and enjoy the rush of taking risks, while the larger amount of grey matter that introverts have force them to consider every possibility before committing to that course of action.
Introverts also process surprise and risk differently than extroverts
In 2005, a study on dopamine’s effect on the human brain concluded that some people have a stronger link between their amygdala and nucleus accumbens while performing a task with some risk involved. More dopamine is released in the brain because of this connection, meaning that the people with a stronger release of dopamine were flooded with more enjoyment from the task, rather than fear. This doesn’t mean that introverts will never take risks — it just means that doing the same activity often involves more thought and planning.
Introverts pay attention to things other than their fellow human beings
This could go a long way in explaining why many introverts care so deeply about humanitarian causes. Studies have shown that introverts react in the same way to stimulation from humans as they do to stimulation from other things in their immediate environment. In the study, the subjects were shown photos of humans and flowers. Extroverts responded strongly to the human faces, but introverts responded equally to the faces and the flowers.
The optimal social situation for an introvert is somewhere without lots of stimulation
Because of this study, we now know that introverts process all stimuli, including humans, with a similar intensity. This means that some introverts may find it difficult to concentrate on a conversation with a friend or colleague if they’re somewhere busy and loud. Next time, try and accommodate by steering the conversation to a quieter room or making plans to meet up in a calmer space, away from distracting noise. You’ll reap the benefits of your friend’s complete focus and attention.
Introverts make great leaders
There are many stereotypes about introverts, and one long-lasting one is that introverts make poor leaders because of their perceived shyness and withdrawn nature. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because of their tendency towards thorough preparation, they often excel at public speaking and leading meetings. Their sensitivity towards the feelings of others also allows them to more acutely observe the way their teams work together, and tackle issues before they become problematically obvious. Many great leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi, are now considered to be introverts. Leaders who are gregarious and outgoing will always be valued, but with this new information, we should consider the benefits of having a leader who thoroughly processes all information, instead of someone who takes pleasure from making potentially world-changing snap decisions.
The myth that introverts enjoy being left alone is completely false
While it is true that introverts recharge their batteries with some quality solo time, it is not true that they prefer being alone. Many introverts have meaningful relationships that they take joy in, but people often find it confusing when introverts opt for alone time rather than socializing on occasion. Extroverts find it difficult to understand that although introverts do enjoy going out, meeting people, and experiencing new things, the best way that they can re-energize themselves is to spend some quality time at home. This doesn’t mean that introverts are shy or withdrawn, it just means that they choose to enjoy their down time solo.
Introverts cannot change who they are
With young children, we focus on socializing them so that when they’re old enough to go out into the world independently, they can feel comfortable on their own. As part of this growing up process, it often becomes clear to parents that their children are either extroverts or introverts. While some parents may encourage their introverted children to become more outgoing, no matter how much they try, they cannot change their nature. If you raise an introverted child, they will always need quality time alone to re-energize themselves. In the same way, extroverts will always seek social engagements to feel happier and more energetic.
Introverts should be celebrated
There are so many qualities inherent to introverts that the world can benefit from. Introverts are thoughtful, compassionate, and imaginative people who deserve to be understood, rather than just being overlooked as shy, withdrawn, anti-social, or dull. Introverts often struggle to find their place in a world that values entertainment and stimulation over thoughtful dialogue, but simply by reading this article, you’ve taken the first step in educating yourself on how to create a space in your life for your introverted friends. All it takes is a bit of understanding and compassion.