The attitude that there’s something wrong with introverted people is widely shared in society, where fast talk and snap decisions are often valued over listening, deliberation and careful planning. Extroverts seem to rule the world or, at least, the USA, which hasn’t elected an introverted president for three decades, since Jimmy Carter.
“The signals we get from the world agree that extroversion is valued,” says Sanford Cohn, an associate professor in curriculum and instruction at Arizona State University. “A lot of the messages we get from society have to do with being social, and in order to be social you have to behave a certain way.”
But that is impossible for introverted kids. Raising them isn’t easy, particularly if parents, family members, teachers, coaches and other adults don’t allow them to be who they are.
Introverted children enjoy the internal world of thoughts, feelings and fantasies, and there’s a physiological reason for this. Researchers using brain scans have found introverts have more brain activity in general, and specifically in the frontal lobes. When these areas are activated, introverts are energized by retrieving long-term memories, problem solving, introspection, complex thinking and planning.
Extroverts enjoy the external world of things, people and activities. They have more activity in brain areas involved in processing the sensory information we’re bombarded with daily. Because extroverts have less internally generated brain activity, they search for more external stimuli to energize them.
“It’s the different pathways that are turned on that activate the behaviors and abilities we see in introverts and extroverts,” says Marti Olsen Laney, a neuroscience researcher and author in Portland, Ore., who is credited with connecting introversion with its underlying biology. “It impacts all areas of their lives: how they process information, how they restore their energy, what they enjoy and how they communicate.”
Introverted children need time alone more than do extroverted children, says Laney, whose book, The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, is due in January. “Extroverts gain energy by being out and about,” but “being with people takes energy from introverts, and they need to get away to restore that energy.”
Laney says introverted kids also behave differently.
They’re not slow, inattentive or shy. Shyness is behavior that may diminish as children grow; introversion is a character trait that lasts.
So, what are you?