“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
Introversion, from a cultural point of view is concerned with “the person of contemplation” as opposed to “the person of action.” If you are someone who recognises yourself as thoughtful, serious, subtle, solitude seeking, and risk averse, you may possibly be more of an “introvert.” However, if you are expansive, sociable, gregarious, active, excitable, and outer directed you are more likely to be an “extrovert.” Few people identify fully with only one or the other.
Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist, devoted his career to studying the emotional and cognitive development of children. He did a series of long term studies following children from childhood to adolescence. He had a theory that temperament effects people’s reactions to new stimuli and determines whether they will become more introverted or extraverted. Some people describe temperament as “the foundation” and personality as “the building.”
Anyway, what Kagan found was that the highly reactive kids got more jangled when confronted with new and stimulating things. He observed that a child’s sensitivity to novelty determined whether they would become introverted or extroverted later on in life. For highly reactive children, their sensitivity is linked to “noticing” in general. High reactive kids pay alert attention to people and things. They tend to think and feel deeply about what they notice.
David Dobbs in The Atlantic, Magazine, 2009 “The Science of Success” said that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. However others, including highly reactive types are more like orchids, they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent. Orchid children are more strongly affected by all experience, both positive and negative. High reactive kids who enjoy good parenting often become empathic, caring, and co-operative adults. They’re successful at things that matter to them.
The advantage of introverts in a world that privileges the gregarious and participatory extroverts, is the power of their temperament. Introverts can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems and spot difficulties ahead. On the other hand we also need extroverts who can be active and risk taking in new environments, who can quickly adapt to new people and novel situations. Who can thrive in group activities, be assertive and eloquent.
I guess armed with this information the challenge for us all is to understand and value the different experiences of people depending on how reactive each person is in the world.
Cain. S. ”The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” (Penguin. USA. 2012)
Kagan. J. & Snidman A. “The Long Shadow of Temperament” (Harvard Press. Cambridge. 2004)