The book written by Susan Cain, Quiet (subtitled: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking), is a significant contribution to our understanding of society. In addition to insightful stories of various individuals who have been characterized as introverts, including notables like Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mahatma Gandhi, a number of research studies involving introversion and sensitivity are described.
There was a study about introverts and extraverts in a low level management position. A low level manager who is an extravert can have a more successful team of poorly motivated employees whereas a one who is an introvert will be more successful with motivated or proactive employees. The opposite arrangements will find success rather unlikely because an extravert manager will suppress proactive employees while an introvert manager will not motivate employees lacking initiative.
A study of behaviors starting with 4-month old infants and following them through adolescence enabled predictions about those infants years later. The reactions were noted for several situations that would be strange to the infants. About 20% were considered ‘high-reactive’ (obvious physical reactions), about 40% were called ‘low-reactive’ (minimal physical reaction), with the remaining 40% in between. Those in the high-reactive group were predicted to become quiet teenagers, and for many that prediction was true. The high-reactives were more likely to become introverts while the low-reactives would become extraverts. Quiet relates conversations with Jerome Kagan of that study. Other studies involving twins about the heritability of introversion and extraversion found that trait to be only 40 to 50 percent heritable. I don't know whether this is a direct quote from Kagan but this is a direct citation from the book:
'To ask [about introversion] whether it's nature or nurture, says Kagan, is like asking whether a blizzard is caused by temperature or humidity. It's the intricate interaction between the two that makes us who we are.'
Quiet also refers to the work of David Lykken, who investigated this 'nature vs nuture' aspect. This article about Lykken also mentions Kagan.
Quiet also mentions the work of Dacher Keltner, a researcher who also published the book Born to be Good. Research has found that primates also exhibit a behavior like embarrassment, useful in reconciliation.
Quiet also mentions the work of Elaine Aron about some being 'highly sensitive' which is a condition not always coincident with introversion (perhaps 30% are extraverts); this attribute has also been observed in a number of other species.
The bottom line to this introvert / extravert aspect of humanity is each person must always recognize another may or may not have a similar comfort level as oneself within a highly stimulating social environment.
In our society there are often efforts to homogenize groups in an effort to find efficiency but that approach is rather unlikely to find success given perhaps 30% of people tend toward introversion. For example American public schools often format the classroom orientation for extravert children even though not all will learn efficiently in that context.
Quiet also mentions the team building exercise called the Subarctic Survival Situation. I remember participating in that type of team building exercise many years ago and I see now there is a variety of similar situations available. The purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate the most vocal member of a team will not always have the best ideas. Depending on the group's dynamics one person or a minority can suppress the ideas of those less vocal, to the detriment of the team when those who were less vocal actually had the better ideas. Unfortunately, often in the American corporate culture those who are most vocal or who are most assertive will force a direction that might not be the best, for the team or for the company.
Diversity can be a strength of a work group and even in society. Unfortunately many leaders value group conformance, as control becomes easier and any measure of success is focused on the leader, rather than seeking success being shared by the group as a whole. This push for conformance has been noted in other essays within this site.
I highly recommend the book Quiet. I have summarized here some of the referenced studies but the well written integration of personal stories makes the book more effective.
Note: Susan Cain did a very popular TED talk about introverts several years ago.
back to the culture page
back to culture and religion home page.
created - April 2016
last change - 04/02/2016