How To Better Understand An Introvert

When someone hears the terms introvert and extrovert, their initial thought is usually “shy” or “outgoing”. This is a big misconception, especially for introverts. While introverts are quieter and some may even consider themselves shy, this is not something that is universal for all introverts. Introverts typically draw their energy from within and frequently need quiet time to refuel (which may explain the why they are perceived as “shy”), while extroverts draw energy from the outside world, larger social groups, and new experiences. Introverts tend to channel more of their attention to their rich inner lives and like to spend more time alone than extroverts, who prefer to expend their energy connecting with the world around them.

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

Most people fall somewhere along a spectrum, with elements of both introversion and extroversion in their personalities. It can be difficult to identify introversion in teens because they choose to act more extroverted in order to fit in. This can also be true for some adults. Society has become an ideal place for extroverts, and can be exceedingly difficult for introverts to navigate. Group projects, school dances, college parties, or even work parties can be anxiety provoking for an introvert.

Recent research shows the brain chemistry of introverts and extroverts is different, and even leads to the use of different neural pathways. The brain processes information, memory, and decision-making along different pathways, mediated by two major brain chemicals – acetylcholine and dopamine. Each of these neurotransmitters starts a different process in the brain, resulting in different behaviors and different rewards for those behaviors. Introverts rely much more on acetylcholine-mediated pathways, resulting in a longer circuit through the frontal lobes of the brain, a longer time in the planning and decision-making mode, and slower memory retrieval. However, they have greater synthesis of information from different parts of the brain. The brain receives chemical boosts or “rewards” for thinking, pondering, focusing on a particular item for study, and concentrating.

Extroverts rely more on the dopamine-mediated pathway, which takes a shorter circuit through the mid-regions of the brain, making more connections in sections that start and stop speaking, trigger interest in others, shift attention quickly focus on the outside world, pleasure, and what’s new and exciting. Dopamine pathways provide powerful rewards that can promote addiction. Findings published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that extroverts had more blood flow to the back of the brain, while introverts had “higher blood flow to the frontal lobes – home to the system that inhibits behavior and promotes planning and thinking before acting.

It’s important to show the introverts in your life that you support them. Here are a few tips that can help:

  1. Respect – Show the introvert in your life that you respect him or her by not expecting them to change. Introverts often make changes in order to fit in, but they want to be accepted and respected for who they are, especially in their homes.
  2. Down time – When an introvert comes home from school or work, they usually need some down time. This may be sitting in their room alone, watching TV, or playing on their phone. Give them the freedom to do this before asking a million questions or telling them everything you did that day.
  3. Processing time – If you want to have a talk or discussion with an introvert, give them a heads up. Tell the introvert in your life what you would like to talk about and even tell them about specific questions. Introverts need time to process questions and think about their answers.

References:

Aspen Education Group – http://aspeneducation.crchealth.com/article-introverted-teens/