Have you ever been told you’re too serious or need to relax? Have you ever sat quietly among a group of people talking and been asked, “Are you okay?” You’re most likely introverted and, to some degree, misunderstood.
Most of the world is made up of extroverts (also spelled “extraverts” in many psychological references and studies, but now, used rather infrequently), so introverted people are often thought of as shy, quiet, standoffish, and sometimes even rude. Oftentimes, people try to bring introverts out of their shells, thinking that they’re misanthropic and that this must be the reason for social behaviors that are outside of the norm or that aren’t as widely understood.
Introversion and extroversion have long been thought of as psychological conditions or personality traits, but research suggests that the brains of introverts and extroverts are quite different. Thus, not only is the brain physically different, but cognitive process and the resulting thoughts about situations, people, and really, the world can be quite different from one another.
Contemporary research using brain scans posits that the brain of an introvert is quite busy. Thus, unlike people who can essentially turn off their brains for a period of time, introverts cannot. Many times, introverts prefer spending time alone doing nothing. The flurry of thoughts and brain activity tends to make external stimuli, at times, overwhelming to the busy-brained introvert. This concept is closely aligned with the work of psychologist Hans Eysenck, who studied the arousal in the brains of introverts and extroverts. Arousal refers to the degree to which our minds are ready to accept and respond to stimulation.
What Eysenck discovered was that arousal in introverts tended to be higher than in extroverts. Thus, introverts are less likely to need to obtain this stimulation or arousal from external sources like, for example, being around a lot of people or being an adrenaline junkie. It is for this same reason that introverts might find themselves overwhelmed by the things that extroverts can handle rather easily and may even find engaging and enjoyable – a large party with a lot of conversations happening, loud music, and the like.
The Dopamine Difference
If you’re an introvert and you’ve spent time socializing or otherwise interacting with many people for an extended period of time (which, for an introvert, might not be that much time at all), you’ve probably found yourself pretty exhausted afterwards. You may have sought out the refuge of a quiet room or outdoor space where you can experience nothing but the silence around you. It has been suggested by recent research that an introvert’s need to re-energize after these types of interactions may be as necessary for the mind and body as a good night’s sleep or proper nutrition.
The reason for this is in the way our brains react to Dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that determines the activity level of neurons – either increasing or decreasing it. It impacts the brain in a number of ways – affecting everything from pleasure and attention to various hormonal processes throughout our bodies. Research has uncovered that introverts tend to be highly sensitive to Dopamine – much more so than extroverts. While introverts have this over-sensitivity, extroverts can’t get enough of it, so they require a great deal of adrenaline to process it in their brains. This could explain why extroverts tend to love lively parties and often seek adventure and take more risks than their introverted counterparts.
This reaction to Dopamine is fundamental to the key difference between introverts and extroverts – that being how energy and reward are derived. Introverts utilize their internal cues rather than external ones to gain energy. They do not process rewards from environmental cues (including people) in as strong a manner in which they process the ones that are within themselves.
It is important to note that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. One may not simply be all one or another. However, a better understanding of the mental processes that exist that may make the way we respond to the world different than that of those around us could lead to better relationships and greater self-discovery.
Check out this fun post on 27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand 🙂