Have you ever read a book or seen a film with the stereotypical quiet nerd or popular jock? The quiet nerd is typically portrayed as being smart, mousy, shy, timid, wears glasses, has blue eyes, and is not fond of crowds while the popular jock is described as being outgoing, funny, charming, has dark eyes, and loves a party or being center of attention, right? What if I told you that these stereotypical descriptions are unconscious physical and character depictions of introversion and extroversion? This is just one of several things that Susan Cain touches on in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
To be honest, I really enjoyed reading this book. I found it to be quite interesting and pretty insightful. The book, as the title suggests, focuses on the differences between introversion and extroversion and how introverts can not only navigate living in an extroverted society but also succeed and leave a lasting impact. According to Cain, despite the fact that, on average, one third to one half of Americans are introverts, we live in a society focused on what she calls The Extrovert Ideal. She explains this concept as “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt.” Living in The Extrovert Ideal means that introversion and traits associated with introversion are now considered second class and are undervalued today. She goes on to state that in the beginning of the 20th century our society began to shift from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality which has now evolved into The Extrovert Ideal. This means that over the last century or so we’ve changed from valuing “serious, disciplined, and honorable individuals” to placing an emphasis on those who were “bold and entertaining and a performer.”
One of the first things Cain addresses are some of the descriptions and assumptions that people commonly associate with introversion and the lasting effects it can have on those who have heard these descriptions their whole life. Some of these descriptions include being shy, boring, hermit, anti-social, and slow. This really resonated with me as Cain went on to state that many introverts later in life describe themselves using the same or similar terms because they’ve grown up being told they did not fit with The Extroverted Ideal. Now, I have known I was an introvert since taking a psychology course in high school but the way introverts are commonly perceived didn’t begin to bother me until halfway through college. By the end of my senior year, I absolutely hated the emphasis that was put on having “the college experience” which, to most of my peers, translated into lots of drinking and hitting the bars or night clubs on the weekends and just generally being a super social person. This emphasis also meant that by not participating in drinking or going out every weekend that I was somehow “doing college wrong.” It just wasn’t my scene. And because of that, I felt that I was sometimes judged as boring or aloof by my fellow college students because I would rather read or stay in and watch Netflix with a few friends than go out to the bar of the night with 100 of my closest friends and their dates.
Some psychologists actually believe that introversion and extroversion are traits imbedded in our DNA. They back this up with studies focusing on the prevalence of introversion and extroversion in countries around the world according to their culture as well as looking to other species in the animal kingdom where introversion and extroversion can also be found. Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist, has spent the majority of his career looking at the emotional and cognitive development of children through studies that lasted decades and followed children from infancy into adolescence. In the psychology world he is particularly known for his studies on reactiveness in children that tested their reactions to new experiences such as balloons popping, clowns, tape-recorded voices, and meeting new people. The results of these studies showed the children who were identified as being “high reactive” as infants typically grew up to become introverts while those who were identified as being “low reactive” typically grew up to become extroverts. I found this interesting because it suggests that perhaps the psychologists who believe introversion and extroversion are innate parts of our biology are correct.
Mentioning Kagan’s studies as an example and jumping point for other insights regarding introversion and extroversion is something Cain does consistently throughout the book. She frequently uses prominent figures (ex. Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt), an anecdote of former clients, or personal experiences as examples to start off each chapter and periodically refers back to them throughout the chapter leaving the reader with a sense of cohesiveness and understanding of the topic being discussed. Cain also uses these examples to demonstrate how being an introvert can be an asset in certain situations and professional job settings.
Outside discussing the differences between the two personalities I think this book shows both introverts and extroverts alike that introverts should not be discounted. Many of the world’s creations we can credit to introverts. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity, George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, and Steven Spielberg, producer of huge movies that include Schindler’s List and E.T. are just a few examples of introverts who have made an impact on our world.
Overall, I think Cain does a great job of balancing psychology jargon and technical concepts with general language so that the end result is a book that is understandable and relatable to the reader. From an introvert wanting to know how to navigate a busy life without getting overwhelmed to an extroverted parent of an introverted child to someone who may not know how they identify in terms of personality, I highly recommend this book to everyone as I think it contains a takeaway for all. And who knows, you may be surprised at what you learn.