The Difference Between Introverts And Extroverts
Dr Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert’s Advantage: How to Thrive In An Extrovert World, has a beautiful way of illustrating the main differences between extroverts and introverts.
She describes extroverts as lighthouses who focus their light and energy outward, while introverts are like lanterns who focus their light and energy inward. She adds that extroverts are like solar panels who re-charge while they are out and about, while introverts are like re-chargeable batteries – they need time-out to refuel.
Extroverts become more energetic when they have outside stimulation from people, places and activities. But they easily feel lonely, tired and bored when by themselves. Introverts however seldom feel lonely while alone. They recharge their energy when they are by themselves, in quiet environments, where they get their best work done. While not averse to socialising and extroverting, too much outside stimulation drain introverts and they feel tired and crabby if they do not get some “me-time”. They find refuge in their inner world.
Different Routes In The Brain
Dr Laney’s book cites research that shows introverts have more blood flow to their brains (due to greater stimulation from a more vibrant internal landscape) and that the blood travels along a different path in the brain compared to an extrovert’s.
An introvert’s neural pathway is more complicated and flows to parts of the brain that involve internal experiences like remembering, solving problems and planning. The extrovert’s pathway is short and more direct, and blood flows to areas of the brain where visual, auditory, touch and taste processing occurs.
So an extrovert can deal better with more external sensory stimulation and get a “high” from them. Which explains why they keep seeking stimuli externally. But an introvert may feel overwhelmed with external simuli as his brain expends more energy processing all the sensory inputs since his mental circuit takes a more complicated route through the areas of the brain responsible for speech and thinking.
However, extroverts risk driving themselves beyond their limits. If they who do not exercise care and balance their lives with appropriate amounts of down time they burn out early. It is said in Dr Laney’s book that introverts cope better with life changes such as retirement, aging and illness and those who manage to better care for themselves in a modern extroverted world tend to live longer than extroverts. So extroverts are like hares (who live up to 5 years) and introverts are like tortoises (they live to a hundred!).
Different Ways To Feel Good
It seems that the different pathways between an introvert and an extrovert also rely on different brain chemicals or neurotransmitters. Extroverts’ pathways are activated by dopamine – they need more of it as they are also less sensitive to it. Adrenaline, which is released when we are stimulated or excited, help to make more dopamine in the brain. So the more active and stimulated an extrovert is, more dopamine is produced in the brain, helping an extrovert feel good.
So extroverts naturally seek stimulation from the external world. They are energetic and like to being in the thick of things. They relish variety, have a wide circle of friends and enjoy chit-chatting even with strangers. They tend to speak fast, able to cover a variety of topics superficially, talk more than listen, and have little qualms interrupting others. They make decisions fast but risk being inattentive to details and lose interest in things quickly.
Introverts on the other hand are highly sensitive to dopamine and when there is too much, they feel overstimulated and overwhelmed. Introverts use a different neurotransmitter, acetylcholine which affects attention and learning, influences the ability to sustain a calm, alert feeling and to utilize long-term memory. It stimulates a good feeling when one is thinking and feeling – all internal activities.
So introverts feel good when they relax alone or with a few close friends. They prefer depth more than breadth and consider only deep relationships as friends. They need rest after outside activities. They prefer to process information and take more time to consider what they say and tend to prefer to put their thoughts down in writing. They also listen more but enjoy talking if the topic is important to them. They find small talk boring and dislike being interrupted, especially when they are concentrating on something. They take more time to make decisions, are attentive to details and are able to concentrate for long periods.
“Wheras extroverts are linked with the dopamine/adrenaline, energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system, introverts are connected with the acetycholine, energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system,” said Dr Laney in her book.
I Love Socialising – But In Controlled Doses, Please
I had many “aha” moments reading Dr Laney’s book. It explains why I generally enjoy quiet time reading, writing, drawing, or just doing stuff either alone or with a few people. Generally, I don’t feel lonely when I am alone. Now I understand why while I love company, I also detest long-stretches of groupie activities such as church camps or company family days. I love socialising – but in controlled doses, please.
I cherish those close to me and love meeting them over dinner or an outing, but am content to interact with my outer circles through technology where my personal space is less likely to be compromised. I prefer to shop alone or with just one other, so I do not have to expend energy chatting while shopping, and so I can dictate my own pigeon-homing schedule. The streets of an urban jungle are just too fraught with noise, sights and sounds for an introvert. She needs to go home and have a cup of tea.
Now I also understand why I took to yoga and meditation like a fish to water in the last few years. The yogic lifestyle and teaching suits me very well. It taught me the need for self-understanding, self-care and the value of silence to nourish my body and my spirits.
I recall reading some time ago that Warren Buffet decided to move from New York City, the heart of commerce, to Omaha as he felt that he could think better away from the constant noise and unrelenting activities of The Big Apple. He felt he could make better investment decisions that way. So you see, the Oracle of Omaha is an introvert who knew what he needed to do to function better. (Read about the great introverts and extroverts of our time).
Choose Your Private or Public Dance
Once I have had enough “me-time”, “down-time”, “quiet time”, I am ready to face the world again. The part of me that enjoy extroversion is now ready to party, but for a shorter duration compared to an extrovert’s. And extroverting is like a performance for us introverts – we need to muster enough resources and energy before we go on stage again to dance. And then when we have enough and know that we are about to crash – we simply go back to our caves and hibernate. We do our true happy dance in private.
Whether you are a lantern or a lighthouse, you are precious and within you is a light destined for something beautiful in this incarnation.
Let your unique light shine.
*Read Marti Olsen Laney’s illuminating and very readable book The Introvert’s Advantage: How to Thrive In An Extrovert World (ISBN 13: 978-0761123699). This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a family therapist, and an extrovert, who said that the book helped him understand and appreciate introverts friends and clients better. Copies are available in our national library.
Time Magazine : Shhhh! The Quiet Joys of An Introvert