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Why Introverts Are Introverts? Because Their Brains Are Different

Why Introverts Are Introverts? Because Their Brains Are Different

You prefer to curl up and read a book by yourself over going to a flashy social event. You like the company of one close friend rather than a group of many rowdy people. Once more you prefer to stay on the safe side than take risks. Does this sound familiar? If so, then you are probably an introvert. You may already know this but what you may not be aware of is that there are physical differences in your brain that make you prefer quiet activities over those that are highly energized.

Carl Jung’s studies

It was Carl Jung who in the 1920s coined the terms introvert and extrovert. He did so to describe contrasting personality types and to explain why different people were energized in distinct ways. He hypothesized that extroverts gained their energy from their social interactions and eternal environments and tended to feel uncomfortable and anxious when they found themselves alone.

Introverts, on the other hand, Jung explained, are able to replenish their energy levels when they are in quiet environments. Unlike extroverts they find socializing and busy environments overstimulating and too demanding.

Dr. Laney clarifies in her book, The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child that “introversion and extroversion are not black and white. No one is completely one way or another – we all must function at times on either  side of the continuum”.

Introversion and extroversion are at the opposite ends of the same spectrum. Everybody moves up and down the spectrum depending on external and internal factors, however, a person tends to prefer one personality type over the other.

The Dopamine difference

A major difference between the brains of introverts and extroverts is the way they react to the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Dopamine is a chemical that is released in the brain. It gives a person their motivation to achieve external goals and receive external rewards. For example, dopamine may motivate an individual to earn more money, increase their circle of friends, attract a good looking partner or advance to a higher role at work. When dopamine is released all of us become more alert to our surroundings, more talkative and more motivated to undertake activities that may be perceived as risky.

Introverts and extroverts have equal amounts of dopamine in their brains, however, the difference between these two categories of people is the activity of the dopamine reward network. The dopamine reward network is more active and dynamic in the brains of extroverts as Scott Barry Kaufman, the Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute says. When an extrovert anticipates a social event, for example, they feel good and energized, whereas the introvert will feel overstimulated.

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Acetylcholine and Introverts

Christine Fonseca writes in her book Quiet Kids: Help your introverted child succeed in an extroverted world that introverts prefer to rely on a different neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is related to pleasure, just like dopamine, however acetylcholine makes a person feel good when they turn inward. It gives a person the skill to reflect and focus solely on an individual task for an extended period of time. As it is simpler to turn inwards when there is limited external stimulation, introverts opt for a calm environment.

Introverts prefer one side of the nervous system over the other

The nervous system is divided into two distinct parts: there is the sympathetic side which is related to the “fight, fright, or flight” response; and the parasympathetic side. The parasympathetic side allows us to rest and digest.

When the sympathetic side is stimulated the body prepares for action; adrenaline is released, glucose energizes the muscles and the amount of oxygen in the body increases. The thinking mechanisms in the brain are put on hold. Dopamine increases alertness in the rear of the brain.

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When the parasympathetic side of the brain is in gear; muscles relax, energy is stored and food is metabolized. Blood flow and alertness in the front of the brain increase as acetylcholine is released.

Although extroverts and introverts use both sides of the nervous system, various times introverts tend to prefer to use the parasympathetic side. This allows introverts to be calm and to act in a slow and measured way.

Why introverts tend to overthink

When information from the external world is received by an extroverts brain it travels via a short pathway that goes through the areas of the brain where touch, taste, sound and sight are processed.

When introverts receive stimulus from the outside world the pathway that the information travels through is a lot longer. The information goes through many areas of the brain including:

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  1. The right front insular,
  2. Broca’s area,
  3. The right and left front lobes and,
  4. The left hippocampus.

The right front insular is an area involved with empathy, emotional thought and self-reflection. The Broca’s area activates self-talk and plans speech. The right and left front lobs, plan and select ideas and actions. The left hippocampus decides what things are personal and places them in long-term memories.

The long journey that the information takes when an introvert receives stimulus from the external world is the reason that introverts take longer to speak, react and make decisions.

Introverts have more gray matter in the front of their brains

study published in the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that introverts have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the place in the brain that is linked to abstract thought and decision-making. Extroverts, on the other hand, have thinner gram matter in the same area.

What does this mean? It means that introverts devote more of their energy and resources to abstract thought while extroverts have the propensity to live in the moment.

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Summation

Things may now make more sense to you, as an introvert. You can now understand that there are physical differences in your brain that make you prefer peaceful activities and self-reflection over highly energized situations.

Featured photo credit: Introvert Dear via introvertdear.com

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Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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