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Busting 3 Persistent Myths About Introverts

Some myths about introverts and extroverts stick around longer than gum on a city sidewalk: introverts are people-haters. Extroverts won’t shut up. Introverts are neurotic. Extroverts are shallow. In this two-part series, let's dismantle the stereotypes. First up: three myths about introverts.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #199

image of person traveling alone

Before 2013, only personality psychologists and career counselors cared about introversion and extroversion. But when Susan Cain published her bestseller, Quiet, everything shifted. 

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People who had previously thought they were too quiet, shy, hard to get to know, or, as Cain put it, “somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” were suddenly granted permission to see their entire personalities, not to mention their preference for staying in on Saturday night, in a whole new light. 

Naturally, as with any new movement, it didn’t take long for the pendulum to swing to the extreme end. After a lifetime of being told they were inadequate, suddenly introverts were framed as delicate zen masters with deep human connections and even deeper creative thoughts, while extroverts were painted as shallow party animals with lampshades on their heads getting by on charm and superficial networking. Uh-oh. You could almost hear the backlash coming.

Simultaneously, an interest in personality exploded, and you couldn’t scroll through your Faceboook feed without being urged to click on quizzes promising to reveal your true nature, from the official Myers-Briggs to the considerably less official BuzzFeed. Who could resist Pick Some Cupcakes and We’ll Reveal Which Harry Potter Character You Are or Go Shopping at Target and We’ll Tell You Which Iconic Drag Queen You Are. (Sidenote: Apparently I am Hermione and Bob The Drag Queen, both of which are oddly accurate. Well done, BuzzFeed, well done.)

Where does all this put us today? Well, the introvert movement has swung back from its extreme and thinking about personality has grown more nuanced (notwithstanding quizzes that reveal what percent Cardi B you are). Even so, stereotypes about both introverts and extroverts have stubbornly persisted. 

Therefore, in this two-part series, we’ll bust the myths of introversion and extroversion. First up: 3 myths about introverts.

Myth #1: Introverts don’t like people.

This stereotype makes it sound like introverts would rather be waterboarded than make small talk, or that their dream home is an isolated lighthouse on a remote island.

But a study out of the University of Illinois found that extroverts and introverts spend about the same amount of time alone and about the same amount of time socializing. 

Even more importantly, the researchers found that introverts showed pretty much the same increase in happiness as extroverts when hanging out with other people. 

So, if introverts spend about the same amount of time socializing and get the same mood boost when they do, why does this stereotype exist? 

That’s a million dollar question, but in general, introverted people have a lower tolerance for stimulation, which includes social stimulation, and naturally dislike the feeling of being drained and overwhelmed. Disliking the negative feelings of overstimulation often gets conflated with disliking people. It’s not misanthropy; it’s self-preservation.

Myth #2: Introverts are depressed and anxious.

This is a tough myth to shake. Indeed, in a study of almost 2,000 individuals seeking mental health treatment, extroversion was inversely related to depression, meaning that the more extroverted someone was, the less likely they were to be depressed.

And there’s more: studies show that people are generally happier when they act extroverted. For example, a study out of Wake Forest University pinged participants five times a day for 13 days and asked how they both acted and felt during the previous hour. A pattern emerged: when participants reported being talkative, energetic, assertive, or adventurous, they also reported feeling good. 

But wait, there’s even more: a groundbreaking study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology instructed super-introverts and super-extroverts, defined as those at the top or bottom 20% of an extroversion scale, to act either introverted or extroverted during a group task. Regardless of whether they were natural introverts or natural extroverts, everyone reported enjoying the discussion more when they were assigned to act extroverted.

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