Monday, January 3, 2011
John Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Thank goodness I’ve never felt anything that misanthropic, but I will admit that sometimes when I’m at a party, after an hour of enjoyment, I find myself thinking that I’ve had enough, and that I want to just go read or watch a video. This becomes particularly problematic when the event is at my own house and I’m ready for everybody to go home. I’ve scolded myself internally about these inhospitable thoughts, but the other day I came across some research that changed my perspective.
I’m an introvert, according to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. This doesn’t mean that I always want to be alone, but rather, that I need periods of solitude in order to recharge my batteries. Extroverts, in contrast, recharge by being with others.(If you don't know if you're an introvert or an extrovert, try taking this assessment (the results should be similar to the Myers Briggs).
Most people (70 percent of the population) are extroverts. We live in a society that values and rewards extroversion. Extroverts tend to have better health, more friends, they sleep better and have higher self-esteem than introverts. Because of these things, we commonly assume that introverts are less psychologically healthy and that they “got that way” because of some flaw in their upbringing.
But studies show that introverts, in fact, have very different brain chemistry than extroverts. First, introverts have far more electrical activity in the brain than do extroverts, even when resting. Scientists think that extroverts might seek out the company of others just to get their “brain juices” flowing, while introverts need to limit input to avoid getting overwhelmed. “The levels of stimulation extroverts find rewarding can be overwhelming or annoying for introverts," according to psychologist Colin DeYoung, of the University of Minnesota.
Extroverts have larger brain structures in the area responsible for releasing dopamine, which is the “feel-good” hormone. Experts think that extroverts may try to draw attention to themselves because they want the dopamine reward that comes when they receive praise and contact. For introverts, the reward isn’t quite as dramatic or compelling, and so they make different choices. The brain activity in introverts actually is centered in a different part of the brain—the frontal lobes and front thalamus—than brain activity in extroverts, which tends to center around the temporal lobes and rear thalamus.
Introverts do have some advantages. First, they tend to do better in school. They have fewer divorces and fewer job changes. In fact, as intelligence goes up across the population, so does the percentage of introverts. More than 75 percent of those with IQs above 160 are introverted.
The bottom line is that given the differences in brain structure and orientation, introverts and extroverts have different needs. Because our culture is so favorable to extroverts, introverts need to take their own need for quiet time and solitude seriously and buck the pressure to always be “on” and “available.” If you’re an introvert, you really do need that alone time, you really do need to cut yourself off from stimulation periodically, you do need time to think. This applies not only at home, but at work as well, during your work day You aren’t wired the same way that all your extrovert friends and colleagues are. Also, if you’re an extrovert reading this, you need to understand that your introverted loved ones aren’t shunning you when they shut down—they’re simply refueling.
Dr. Hiyaguha Cohen offers life-coaching by Skype, phone, and in person in Hawaii. Contact her at Hiyaguha@thelifechangecoach.com.