As a self-confessed introvert, who enjoys and needs time alone, to think, to read and to ponder. I have wondered what makes me and people like me, different from the extroverts, who I must admit to me seem somewhat superficial. While most of us are a mix of introverted and extroverted styles, depending on the situation, in general research indicates that extroverts comprise 50 - 74 percent of the population and introverts, 16 - 50 percent. The major difference between these two broad personality types however, is in the brain, which is wired up differently and in the brains response to the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Time To Ponder
Introversion is not shyness, many people who are introverts enjoy to socialize and communicate with others, however generally we enjoy small intimate groups and real conversations as opposed to big loud events with meaningless superficial chit-chat.
Personally I want to communicate about the things that interest me and hear the considered knowledge and ideas of others; I don't want to talk about celebrities, or who has the newest car, best house, job or career etc.
Like most people who have an introverted personality, I seem to absorb and process more information, and am more of an observer in a situation then most extroverts. The reason behind this, is different brain function involving the neurotransmitter dopamine (involved in brain's reward and pleasure centers). Introverts seem to have a lower tolerance, or threshold to dopamine, while extroverts seem to need a greater hit of dopamine to get an effect and so are driven to engage in behaviour, which provides them with their dopamine fix.
Introverts who push themselves to become more extroverted however, may pay a significant toll in the form of cognitive fatigue, as they have experienced overstimulation. In experiments, introverts have shown higher electrical activity in the brain indicating cortical arousal and neuroimaging studies have also demonstrated higher activation of the frontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is key to decision-making, problem solving, focus and attention. Also extremely interesting, is that introverts have greater blood flow to the Broca's area of the brain, a brain area involved in speech; in the case of introverts this seems to indicate 'self talk'. So it seems that introverts, with our highly reactive brains, basically need down time and time alone to recuperate , before we can get out there again into the cacophony of the modern social world.
A Different Style
According to psychologist Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., the different thinking and communicating styles of introverts and extroverts, can also create conversation difficulties. The extrovert for example may ask, "Hello, how are you? Hey, I've been meaning to talk to you about X,", and the introvert wants to ponder and explain how they are feeling, not just answer with a glib "good", before they move on to the next part of the conversation. Extroverts however need the constant stimulation and input and so becomes impatient. However as with many cases of difference between people, understanding and tolerance can go a long way to building a bridge between the two cognitive styles and who knows what each can learn from the other!
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