Quiet and society’s extroversion bias

susancainI just finished reading a powerful book, Quiet by Susan Cain.This book spoke to me because I am an introvert and I’ve always been under pressure to become someone I’m not. The book was loaned to me by an introvert and is now in the hands of yet another introvert.  The three of us have been discussing the how this insightful book has made us feel about being exactly who we are. 

For a scientific explanation of an introvert, here is an excerpt from a related book: The Introvert Advantage (How To Thrive in an Extrovert World), by Marti Laney, Psy.D. — Also read Carl King ‘s essay here — 10 Myths About Introverts

“It turns out that Introverts are people who are over-sensitive to Dopamine, so too much external stimulation overdoses and exhausts them. Conversely, Extroverts can’t get enough Dopamine, and they require Adrenaline for their brains to create it.

Extroverts also have a shorter pathway and less blood-flow to the brain. The messages of an Extrovert’s nervous system mostly bypass the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which is where a large portion of contemplation takes place.”

According to many sources, extroverts make up 60% to 75% of the population, and introverts make up the remainder. This might explain society’s alleged preference toward extroverted behavior. We’re living in a culture that increasingly values groupthink, despite the fact collaboration kills creativity. We can’t be in a group of people without instinctively mirroring each other, and groups follow the most charistmatic person, even though there is no correlation between being charistmatic and having great ideas.

Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Without introverts, the world would be devoid of

the theory of gravity
the theory of relativity
W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’
Chopin’s nocturnes
Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’
Peter Pan
Orwell’s ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’
The Cat in the Hat
Charlie Brown
‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘E.T.,’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’
Harry Potter

Cain brings in her thesis with the insight that, “The key to maximizing talents is to put yourself into the zone of stimulation that’s right for you.”

  • The things in your suitcase belong to you and to you alone.
  • Your actions reflect parts of the things in your suitcase and all that you have experienced in your life.
  • Your character traits are all a part of your personal development.
  • Your thinking determines your attitude, conduct, and behavior, which determines the status of your relationships with others.
  • Collectively they all add up to What’s in your suitcase?

Manifesto, by Susan Cain

Cain has three calls to action:

1.  “End the madness of constant group-work.” Offices need chatty conversations, and great spaces to make serendipitous interactions. But we need much more privacy, and more autonomy. The same is true — more true — for schools. Yes, teach kids to work together, but also how to work alone.

2. “Go to the wilderness, be like Buddha. Have your own revelations.” You don’t have to go build huts in the woods and be isolated, but we could all stand to unplug and be in our heads for a time.

3.  “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase, and why you put it there.” Extroverts, whose bags might be filled with Champagne bubbles and sky-diving kits, grace us with the energy and joy of these objects. Introverts probably guard the secrets of their suitcases, and that’s cool.

“But occasionally, just occasionally, I hope you will open the suitcase up.. because the world needs you and what you carry.”

Related Posts:
Your Personality and Writer’s Voice
 All Loners Aren’t Social Misfits


  1. I was reflecting yesterday, after posting on PP…about some of the ideas from “Quiet”….she wrote that when a person with introverted tendencies feels strongly, that person, when deeply moved by inner values and beliefs, will/might speak out for that belief or cause…well, apparently that’s true, because I sure did that yesterday…not my typical post…very strident, at least for me…(and my husband, an attorney, was looking at me with a sense of…”wow! just look what you just DID!…go Kathy! “) Thank you so much for having brought that book to my attention…some of those ideas continue to be so helpful.

  2. I’m definitely an introvert, but people think I’m an extrovert because I can mingle and chat and make it look effortless. What they don’t know is that I’m counting down the minutes until I can go home. A good weekend for me is when I don’t have to go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone.

    I will admit, though, that since quitting my job to stay home with my son, I’ve found myself craving more social interaction. I think that when I was working, I felt like I got plenty of social interaction at work. Why would I want *more* social interaction? But now that I’m at home, I look forward to going out and seeing friends.

    [side note on book tour removed byTT]

  3. Thanks so much….I see it now… the “admin bar”…right there, as you said. Once I get this mastered, I’ll move on to the ideas in your domain name blog post, another area of interest. I remember Hugmamma going through much confusion over that and self hosting, so have been hesitant to pursue those, but maybe soon. Thanks again for walking me through the steps. Kathy btw, I did get the book, Quiet, and am looking forward to a “quiet” school vacation week next week with time to read it.

      • Speaking of “quiet”….I’m just in the middle of creating a photo card for reflections blog…. “quietly content”…using a photo from a post I made a few days earlier….that wonderful sense of quiet that I’ve been getting the past few days when I sit…quietly content… : ) …I’ll add it in a few minutes. http://reflectionsfromafriend.wordpress.com/ (the photo was taken in a little redwood park that I go to in the summer, after going to a Wed. morning meditation group at Spirit Rock, in CA…really special spot)

  4. off topic here…a logistics question, but I can’t figure our where in your blog to ask it…I’d like to sign up to get your posts for this blog, (I get the other one) I but can’t see the way I know how to do that…I usually just click a spot on a sidebar that sends the post notification by email. I don’t use facebook or twitter …or much of anything else…any suggestions or advice on how to do this? thanks…still so much to learn… kathy

    • Click the follow link on the top of the Admin bar and you can get my posts in your Reader on the home page of WordPress.com. Or click the feedburner icon in the sidebar widgets it’s the first one in “subscribe & follow” and subscribe by email.

      • thanks…I tried that “feedburner” icon…it says I’m already following….???…I do follow “onecoolsite.” I look in old emails, but don’t see any posts from this blog. I’m not sure what the “Admin” bar is where I can get posts in my Reader. I do have lots of other blogs I follow through the Reader, so I guess I must have found that before, but no luck now. Trudging along the learning curve here…

        • ah ha….is that the check mark box below the comments? How in the world did I miss that??? I’m getting the opportunity to follow some advice I’ve had on another of my blogs: “everything in life is a lesson we can learn from”…in this case, for me to keep looking all the way to the bottom of the page! :roll:

        • When you are logged into WordPress.com there is an Admin bar at the top of your blog that has a “follow” link on it. I don’t use wordpress.com email subscriptions as I have long since used feedburner and as feedbuner subscriptions are portable and easily moved if one moves their content to another blog host. You ought to be able to click the icon and subscribe. You will receive only a brief excerpt as I don’t choose to provide full posts in emails. That’s because when I did I had to chase down content thieves. To put and end to that here > Settings > Reading where I changed my RSS Feed settings to display only “summary” in my RSS Feeds.

  5. Good way of expressing the bike and person, timethief.

    As for group work for myself, I certainly love volunteering for public events. I get jazzed up with others who feel passionately like I do about an event.

    But for group work which is to creative collectively 1 thing, I’m a bit lukewarm. I was never the type to “study” in groups with fellow students at all. I didn’t mind asking someone occasionally for their idea/help. But that’s all. I need to be solo and thinking creatively to create the presentation, paper or artwork on my own.

  6. “3. “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase, and why you put it there.” Extroverts, whose bags might be filled with Champagne bubbles and sky-diving kits, grace us with the energy and joy of these objects. Introverts probably guard the secrets of their suitcases, and that’s cool.

    “But occasionally, just occasionally, I hope you will open the suitcase up.. because the world needs you and what you carry.”

    More an introvert, though can be an extrovert if I am “in the moment” and being /thinking creatively with a bunch of people doing that too.

    My suitcase: includes a (folding) bike (which has made me a bit more extroverted. However cycling is viewed as a loner activity. It is not dependent to be part of a team.), a good magazine or book, a camera, a computer (to blog), etc.

    • Hi Jean,
      You are a very interesting person. Your photography and your writing are so creative. Your comments on all sorts of different issues are always thought provoking. It’s true that biking is considered to be a loner activity. Yet, on a bike you are part of the scene and in a vehicle you aren’t.

  7. I’m definitely an extrovert, love to have friends and love to talk. On the other hand, I’m extremely independent and have never felt like I “need’ people. If there’s something I want to do, and nobody else is interested, I’m more than happy to do it alone. But, on the whole, meeting and getting to know people has been the great joy of my life.,

    • Dear Marty,
      Your description of yourself and my perception of you match perfectly. You are a happy and very social person and just receiving a comment from you always makes me smile. Most of all, I love the balance of thoughtfulness and sensitivity that shine through your aphorisms. It’s a pleasure to have you in my blogging life.

  8. Hi Time Thief,

    Being an INFJ, I too am an introvert. When I am around too many people, I get tired easily. Then I clam up and have nothing to say. I rather have deep and meaningful conversations with one other person rather than to hang out in groups.

    I was always very quiet when I was in the working world. As a result, I was not very popular with my colleagues because I did not have any meaningful small talk to share. Oh they did try to change me and I did try to fit in, but in the end, I just couldn’t be what I wasn’t.

    Well it is true. The most charismatic person does become the leader. I guess as introverts, we are destined to work behind the scenes. It is better to manage one person than it is to manage many people.

    In any case, this is the role I have chosen as an introvert. I feel I excel in the role of an adviser when it comes to helping people to make the best choices in any situation or challenge they face. This is what I have devoted a large part of my life to studying. Having learned to know the unknown, I am confident in my ability to help. Just have to convince the extroverts to slowly down and listen.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hello The Vizier,
      The term ambivert was coined to denote people who are comfortable with groups and enjoy social interaction, but also relish considerable time alone and away from the crowd. For most of my life that was my mode of being. But deep down I am also INFJ and share the same traits with you.

      I have been fortunate as my husband and I began our own small business three decades ago and I haven’t had to be in work environments I don’t thrive in. Like you I have spent a large part of my life studying and have gained so much from it. If you are an introvert, says Susan Cain, find a niche where you can work in the lamplight rather than in the spotlight. Well, that reflects where I prefer to be — I like being in the background.

      It’s not surprising that being an introvert has placed you in a position of an advisor in challenging situations and I’m confident that you are able to be helpful. I have found myself in the role too. I think the ambivert-ed younger life I lived provided me with lessons in adaptability that have made me more resilient, and provided me with an appreciation for where extroverts are coming from.

      Thank you so much for joining the conversation.

  9. My dear timethief, As a life-long introvert who has posed as an extrovert when I had to for business reasons, I must say that both “verts” have something to learn from each other.

    The fact that exs far outnumber ins makes this almost an impasse. The ancient Greeks solved the problem in their dramas by giving the actors a mask to hide behind so they could tell the truth.

    This Greek solution does not appeal to exs though and ins are not particularly care who tells the truth as long as it or a semblance is being told. The credit for the telling can be fought over endlessly by the exs.

    So, there appears to be a viable physical basis for the two, probably evolutionary based, and that means either must outgrow our past tendencies or wait and see what evolution has in store for both we ins and exs.

    Meantime we,can through books like this have our eyes wide open in Gaza.
    My best.

    • Dear Count Sneaky,
      It’s so good to hear from you. Indeed both “verts” could learn a lot from each other. Your Greek tragedy observation is so astute as is this too: “This Greek solution does not appeal to exs though and ins are not particularly care who tells the truth as long as it or a semblance is being told. ” And your hunch that the two are probably evolutionary based is well founded.

      “There is considerable evidence that whatever the biological foundations to introversion and extraversion are, they have a genetic basis. … But the matter might go deeper than this and be a way of safeguarding our basic patterns of adaptation to life.

      Jung suggested that introversion and extraversion themselves had their roots in two basic ways of procreating. One was a broadcasting of many offspring with the hopes that a few would survive, while the second was the birth of a few offspring raised in highly protective conditions.

      In short, introversion and extraversion would represent two kinds of evolutionary adaptation, two viable ways of surviving in this world. And this kind of inheritance would guarantee that neither one of these patterns would die out, and as a result mankind would maintain the plasticity and adaptability, which is one of its most valuable attributes. ” — Reading: Type and Genetics from
      Tracking the Elusive Human, Vol. II

      All my best to you always

  10. I’m really (!!) looking forward to getting and reading this book….thanks for bringing it to our attention. My daughter mentioned the idea …. “a friendly introvert”….that pulls several aspects together for me.

    • Hi there,
      As you can tell I recommend this book very highly. It’s a fascinating read with so much insight and depth. I struggled when it came to putting it down.

      • I settled into bed yesterday afternoon…pillows, comforter and the book “Quiet”. She has so many insightful ideas. Reading the book, lots of underlining, and reflecting….really helping me get more perspective on my own preferences, strengths and complications…really helpful! I’m very thankful that I fell into a career, teaching in elementary school, that fit well with my own style. I’m retiring in June, so will need to learn more about those preferred “stimulation levels” etc…Thanks for bring the book to our attention.

        • It’s good to hear that you curled up with Quiet and apprciated reading it. The copy I read was borrowed form a freiend wo Icouldn’t underline and/or write in the margins … lol :D I save that for paperback copies. Your retriement date is so close that you must be feeling excited by now or at least I think I would be excited.

        • I created a post using some ideas from the book, Quiet…I’m so thankful to have more insight into how to tap into ways to speak up…thank you again for bringing her book to our attention….it has a wealth of ideas. Having the courage to express my own ideas and then pushing that publish button is still a bit difficult for me, so her ideas help…. : )

  11. A book like this is reassurance that it is OK to be different. Yes, there is definitely not enough respect in our culture for introverts. Have you read about kids that get labeled in school and are put on Prozac just because they are quiet? Just let shy people be…there isn’t anything wrong.

    • Hi Diane,
      You’re right this is a reassuring book and it’s definitley okay to be different. In some ways the facts that we are a competitive a species and that the majority rules has been to our detriment. Thank you so much for your comment.

  12. This must be extrovert/introvert month! I have read at least 6 posts on this subject in as many days. I think we should skip the labels and accept ourselves for who we are, surround ourselves with positive people who support us and find our own “inner” voice whether we choose to use it or not…
    Great post for thought!

    • Hi there,
      I’m not surprised to hear this subject is being discussed elsewhere, as both the book and this subject are fascinating. Learning who we really are, when and where we thrive is a life-long process. I learned a lot from this inspiring book. Thanks for wading in here.

      • It is fascinating. I guess we are wired a certain way or have been profoundly effected by an event in our lives. My mom would have loved me to be just like my introverted sister – oh well…

        • We are a whole spectrum of personalities within personality types, and you’re right to point out that unique events can have a lasting impact on us and how we conduct ourselves.

  13. TT, thanks for the review! It sounds so interesting and so important! I will read it in near future too.
    I myself is struggling in between introvert and extrovert. essentially I believe I am introvert who tried very hard to be an extrovert. I think this book might be good for me to understand more about myself.
    Thanks again!

    • Hello Yun Yi,
      I recommend this book. Introversion/extroversion is a spectrum. I like the way Susan empahsises this: “The key to maximizing talents is to put yourself into the zone of stimulation that’s right for you.” I didn’t have that opportunity in my younger life. I do now and without doubt the dopamine connection highlights my own experience of being over-stimulated.

      I create when I’m on my own and when I’m on my own is when flow experiences happen http://thistimethisspace.com/2010/07/19/creativity-in-the-flow/

      Thanks for letting me know this subject interests you too. :)

  14. Loved reading this material and seeing the TED talk. I think I’m an ambivert. I’m right in the middle of the continuum, somewhat sociable, somewhat contemplative. I can schmooze, shuck and jive, but for a limited period of time, then I must repair to the forest to pray.

    Philip Zimbardo, the brilliant psychologist behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, wrote a great book on shyness, which is about the nature of introversion.

    • Hi Mikey,
      I’m so glad you liked this as I was engrossed in the book and read many sections over more than once. I found myself wanting to shout “yes!” on many occasions while reading it. I muttered ‘yes!” once on a ferry. Guess what? Two other passengers heard me and gave me a thumbs up saying “great book!”

      I can schmooze, shuck and jive, but for a limited period of time, then I must repair to the forest to pray.

      That describes me too. :)

  15. Very interesting! I have no idea any longer if I am an introvert or not! It’s hard to tell how much is influenced by trauma and who I naturally am. I tend to prefer to be on my own, but is that the real me? I enjoy reading over partying, but I also feel lonely sometimes. I can also be bubbly and entertaining when the circumstance is right. I really am unsure anymore! Love the manifesto. I would like to explore this more so thanks for starting the conversation!

    I wasn’t able to access the video, but I’ll try again at another point. The internet seems a bit wacky tonight.

    • Hi Sandra,
      I had a traumatic childhood and for reasons I’m not going to get into, primarily neccesity, I was not only the eldest child I replaced my mother in our large family. I believe I have always been an introvert but that due to circumstances I functioned as an ambivert for most of my life.

      I found that reading this book explained so many things to me about myself and my interaction with others. Solitude is essential to creativity. The video is a good 20 minute promo for the book. There are other videos that are longer too on youtube such as Leading@Google: Susan Cain I sure hope you will have an opportunity to watch one.

      P.S I adore The Manifesto

      Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.

      • I was able to watch the video once my connection calmed down (or woke up!). I enjoyed it immensely. I find the dopamine connection fascinating as I don’t seem to process dopamine as easily as others although it’s not an extreme problem. I was especially intrigued by her point that introverts like to create but don’t enjoy marketing themselves. I can relate to that! As she or someone mentioned, introversion/extroversion is a spectrum. So I appreciate her suggestion that the key is finding how much stimulation you can tolerate / prefer. I think many of us are confused because like Susan and you illustrate with your personal stories many of us have tried to or been expected to fit into roles that required more extroversion than might have been optimal for our bio-physical systems. This in the long run can be detrimental.

        I’m very drawn to reading the book. Thank you for sharing this, timethief. It has been very helpful and meaningful to me.

        • I’m so glad to hear you did watch the video. I watched another longer video as well and what Susan said about group work resonated for me. Promoting a good idea or selling a product we make or service we deliver is exhausting. I’ve done organizational work that I’ll never do again. It drained me dry. I was sure there are other introverts who have had a similar experience and the book confirms there are. I’m sure many good ideas don’t ever get shared because those who have them don’t wish to invest the energy and time involved in shining light on them through the groupthink haze. That’s such a great loss to society.

    • It’s one of the best reads I have had in a long time. After the book makes the rounds being passed from friend to friend I’m going to read it again.

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