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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 October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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