General Research on Introverts
Introverts and extroverts have different ways of reacting to stimulation in the brain. Introverts have less activity in the dopamine reward network, but have a preference for acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter that powers introverts to think deeply and reflect. Introverts typically have a higher cortical arousal which causes them to take in more information per second which can lead to overstimulation. The areas that had more blood flow in introverts and extroverts directly linked to which parts they preferred using. Extroverts are more likely to exhibit risk taking behavior. Extroverts exhibit a better reaction to human faces than introverts, which may be why they seek company. Extroverts are more likely to wear decorative clothing than introverts. Introverts are often told to be more outgoing or that being introverted isn’t a good thing. People like Susan Cain and myself have been victims to society’s pressure to be an extrovert. She became a lawyer to prove that she could be bold and outgoing when what she wanted to do was write. This misunderstanding of who introverts are creates a lot of problems for them in their lives.
Keywords: introvert, extrovert,dopamine, acetylcholine,differences, stimulation
How it works
Introverts are often misunderstood. They are taken to be rude and antisocial. This is not at all what being an introvert means. Introverts can love being social and hanging out with friends, but they are tired more easily by socializing and need time to decompress after socializing for a while. Bushak who is the author in the article “The brain of an introvert compared to that of an extrovert: Are they really different?” says “Being an introvert doesn’t mean being a hermit” (Bushak, 2014). Unfortunately, this is often the misconception. The difference between an introvert and an extrovert is just a preference for how much stimulation they want and thrive on, and this translates to many differences in the brain.
The way extroverts and introverts respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine is a major difference in their brains. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that provides motivation to seek rewards like earning money, being popular, attracting someone, or getting a high-profile job. When dopamine floods the brain, people whether introverted or extroverted, become more talkative and more aware of their surroundings. They are suddenly more motivated to explore, adventure, and take risks. Introverts and extroverts have the same amount of dopamine available. The difference is in the activity of the “dopamine reward network”. It is more active in extroverts than introverts. Extroverts become more energized than introverts. While extroverts feel a rush of good feelings, introverts may feel overstimulated. Extroverts typically want more stimulation like loud noises, socializing, and being at a concert. While introverts may enjoy this too, they will likely want to ” recharge after this much socializing.” For introverts, a different neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is also linked to pleasure, is more preferable. Acetylcholine makes introverts feel good when they turn inward. It powers an introvert to think deeply, reflect, and focus. It explains why introverts prefer a calmer environment.
Introverts and extroverts use both sides of their nervous systems at different times, but extroverts tend to use the sympathetic side or the “fight, flight, or freeze” system more often. This side makes us active, daring, and want to ask questions. Using this side causes blood sugar and free fatty acids to be elevated to give us more energy, thinking to be reduced, and it helps you become prepared to make fast decisions. While extroverts thrive on this, introverts tend to feel like it’s too much. Acetylcholine is linked to the parasympathetic side which is called the “rest and digest” side. This side is more preferable for introverts. Using this side causes the body to conserve energy and withdraw from the environment. Your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, causing you to be more relaxed, preparing the body for contemplation (Granneman, 2018).
Introverts have a lower level of arousal, so they easily feel over-stimulated. Researchers tested a gambling task on introverts and extroverts. When gambling paid off and the results were positive, extroverts had a stronger response in the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens than introverts. This shows that extroverts process surprise and reward in a way that differs from introverts (Bushak, 2014).
Introverts have naturally high cortical arousal which means that they process more information per second. Therefore, in a room that is loud and has a lot of stimulation, it is easy for them to become overloaded. I consider myself an introvert most of the time and have definitely gotten overwhelmed in a crowded and loud room. For instance, I was playing a card game with my roommates and we had music playing. Something happened that made two of my roomates start yelling (all in good fun). There were two different conversations going on in the room plus the music and I got overwhelmed by all of it. I put my head down to reduce the overstimulation.
Scientists measured the cerebral blood flow in extroverted and introverted people using Positron emission tomography (PET) scans while they thought freely. Introverts had more blood flow in their frontal lobes and anterior thalamus. These brain regions involved recalling events, solving problems, and making plans which leads to the conclusion that introverts focus on the inward. Extroverts had more blood flow in areas that involve interpreting sensory data which leads to the conclusion that extroverts focus on the outward.
During a Ritalin (a drug that stimulates dopamine release) study, the participants watched nature scenes while on ritalin. After 3 days, the drug was taken away, and the participants watched the videos again. The extroverts were excited by the videos, while the introverts were not. Ritalin in an introvert doesn’t translate into reward or motivation for them showing that introverts have a difference in how strongly they process rewards from the atmosphere they are in (Bennington-Castro, 2013).
Introverts are more likely to have better precision in their descriptions. The brains of introverts respond to faces in a similar way that they respond to images of flowers which is not a strong response. When extroverts and introverts were asked to describe what was going on in a photo the introverts were more precise in the way they described it. Introverts are likely to be practical in their clothing choices with pieces that are not as flashy.
Extroverts have less precision in their descriptions. Studies have shown that extroverts pay more attention to faces than introverts do, and extroverts brains show a stronger response to faces. Extroverts seem to be more excited by human faces which could be why they seek out company most of the time. Extroverts are more likely to wear decorative clothing.
When it comes to learning a second language, extroverts have the edge. They are more likely to take their existing language system to the limit. Extroverts are more likely to use what they learn in conversations inside and outside the classroom – a more risk taking behavior (Bennington-Castro, 2013).
Introverts often find it hard to live in a largely extroverted world. Susan Cain describes a camp she went to as a child during the summer. She packed a suitcase full of books because reading is what she enjoyed doing. She was just like her family. They all sat around and read together, and that was their way of being social. They were together, but also free to roam in the books and their imagination. She got to camp and the first time she got her book out the coolest girl there asked her why she was being so mellow, which was opposite of their camp cheer which said “Let’s get rowdy”. The second time she pulled out a book her camp counselor told her she needed to get some camp spirit and that everyone should try to be outgoing, so she put her books away. Throughout Cain’s life, including this story, she was getting the message that she should be trying to be an extrovert. In the Ted Talk, The Power of Introverts, Cain speaks about how it is the world’s loss that society pushes introverts to become extroverts and that introversion is not what is cool. “When it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best.” It is the world’s loss that introverts feel the pressure to be any way other than themselves. Our schools and our workplaces are designed for extroverts. Instead of sitting in rows, now classrooms have groups of desks formed to have students work together and “Kids are expected to act as community members”. For the kids who prefer to work alone, they are seen as outliers and sometimes troublesome. The vast majority of teachers say that their ideal student is an extrovert. Introverts are likely not chosen for leader positions even though introverts make a good leader because they don’t make uncalculated risks.
I have definitely encountered this in my schooling. I have had teachers who didn’t seem to like me as much as other students who interacted with them and often conversed with them about their life. I have often been forced to do group work when I would have been able to do the assignment better and more efficiently by myself. I have been in classrooms designed for group work. This is beneficial sometimes, but for the introvert who likes to work by themselves, this is more of a distraction.
The world is made for extroverted people. So many introverted people feel like being themselves is not okay. Dr. Seuss was worried to meet fans of his books, because he was afraid that they would be disappointed by his reserved persona. Being reserved or shy has an automatic negative connotation to it. Like Susan Cain, she felt her whole life that she had to prove to herself that she could be bold and outgoing when what she really wanted was to become a writer. She became a lawyer because of the pressure society puts on introverted people to not be themselves (The power of introverts, 2012).
I have felt the pressure that being an introvert is not what is cool or best for me. When taking personality quizzes that told you how introverted and extroverted you are among other traits, I purposefully chose answers to questions that would lead to a more extroverted outcome. I disliked it when anyone referred to me as quiet or introverted, because that was not necessarily a good thing in my mind. I forced myself to do extroverted things when I would’ve rather had a chill night with my friends. It took me 17 years to finally decide that being an introvert is great and it’s who I am. I do my best work alone in a quiet space and trying to do it in a crowded space while listening to music to prove a point wasn’t hurting anyone but me. I have stopped letting society’s pressures that introverted people should try to be more like extroverted people control me and do the things that best benefit me.
In a world made for extroverted people, introverts often feel the pressure to become extroverted although “We all exist on a spectrum of introversion and extroversion, manifesting qualities of each” (Bushak, 2014). People who fall closer to introversion feel the pressure that it isn’t cool to be by yourself and often end up doing things just because of that pressure. Introverts are misunderstood to be rude and antisocial sometimes and it all goes back to how the brain responds to stimulation.