Bias Against Introverts?

Echoing an earlier Atlantic article, Mary Carpenter suggests we are biased against introverts:

As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in a Time magazine column about personality tests, "Their chief function as far as I could tell . . . was to weed out the introverts. When asked whether you’d rather be the life of the party or curl up with a book, the correct answer is always, ‘Party!’ " … self-help books that include blatantly stupid questions … paints introverts as "over-critical," "pessimistic" and "anxious," and describes them as feeling "unaccepted, unacceptable or simply inferior."  It’s enough to make an introvert mad. … My enormous, extended and extroverted family still poses a challenge, especially on the small island where we converge for a few weeks every summer. … But the family is making strides in recognizing its introverted minority.

With a little search I find that the shy and introverted both suffer in many ways: 

Introversion is indeed more active than shyness in inhibiting religious disposition.  … Very Conservative males reported the lowest rate of overall shyness. … Non-shy respondents reported the highest rate of starting their own business, … Non-shyness and extroversion reported the highest household income levels …Shyness has a greater impact on the reduction on eye contact than does introversion. … Those with the lowest rates of eye contact achieve the lowest ranks [at the workplace].

We might posit a grand conspiracy of extroverts to keep introverts down, but a more plausible explanation to me is that extroversion is just valued more by society and business.   

I was a shy young nerd and thought I was an introvert, but eventually learned that I was reacting to the fact that other people didn’t like to be around me.  Once I found people who liked to be around me, I loved to be around them too, and was often the last person to leave from a party.   Of course it is possible that my personality changed.

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  • I’ve noticed something like a presumption that intoverted characteristics are undesirable in some of the recent lit on “happiness,” and while, say, extreme shyness might well make one less happy, there is little or no mention about “extreme” extroversion. Introversion is a “warning sign” that you might not be as happy as you could be.

    What you say at the end is relevant, too: perhaps we need to find the right group of people in order to “be extroverted” or at least not duly withdrawn. In that case, “introversion” may just be a “warning sign” that we don’t like the people we’re around (or aren’t interested, etc.) – (I don’t know; maybe in this case it wouldn’t count as a case of “true” introversion???)

  • eric

    I too think disposition is important. Neurotism, insecurity, disagreeableness, extraversion, are all somewhat innate traits. Given we are quintessentially social animals, extraversion is better than introversion–if you like social interaction, life is a lot more pleasurable given all the people modern society forces us to interact with.

    What I find interesting is your point on finding the right crowd. Even big frat party guy, if you put him in a room full of dweeby engineers, will quickly feel insecure, uncomfortable, unconfident. Everyone has social groups where they feel they are best appreciated, their relative talents optimized, and these places they tend to be more open, extraverted. This highlights that extraversion is a “good”, in that seeking it causes one to associate with people to whom you have a comparative advantage.

  • NERD

    Scientifically speaking, introversion and shyness are correlated to high IQ. Self-confidence is also related inversely to IQ at the same SES. Shy people become extrovert only after achieving extrem success like Bill Gates. In other word, shy people have higher standard to be self-assured.

    Poor gheto folks are often well self-assured and happy about themself. They have low standard to be happy.

    Shy people are better survivors in civilized society due to their sensitivity to law and future danger. Certainly shy and high IQ types are very sensitive.

  • I wonder if shy/introverted people (not sure of the distinction) are less biased in evaluating their abilities, and in general? Perhaps what society perceives as introversion is largely a disposition towards rationality. Extroverts start more businesses, but most businesses fail, so starting a business is usually irrational. (I realize that last sentence is an oversimplification, but I think I’ve heard of studies that back it up.)

  • TGGP

    I’m a rather extreme introvert and I think Carpenter needs to stop whining so much. If most people don’t like introversion, so what? No one is obligated to find your personality likable.

  • rcriii

    I’m in the midst of my second year of hiring engineers. A huge part of how I rate a candidate is how well they answer my questions about their work experience and projects, and what kind of questions they ask when I describe the industry and the position I am filling. Looking at it, I am not sure if I am selecting for intelligence and ability, or for glibness and conversational ability (i.e. extroversion).

    So maybe there is not so much a conspiracy, so much as introversion sabotaging other traits valued by society. Robin’s comment about finding the right group to hang out with also suggests that there could be a sort of ‘situational introversion’. Thus in my case, someone who is comfortable with me (i.e from a similar background) may do better just by being more comfortable or relaxed in the interview.

  • moonbat

    Eysenck’s PEN personality model explains a lot of the data well and has received experimental support. Essentially, Psychoticism, Extraversion, and Neuroticism are 3 independent underlying factors in the same way that g is an underlying intelligence-factor. Based on it, I would argue it is likely that : 1) Just as individuals can have the same level of g but still perform differently on different specific mental tasks, people with the same level of any of the factors can behave differently in different situations. It is not surprising, then, that to some extent people’s easily observable personality characteristics change over time and in response to different situations. 2) Most personality questionnaires confound the underlying factors and observable characterics in a way that often leads to an improper estimation of the levels of the underlying factors. 3) As many introverts would tell you, introversion is not per se a form of shyness. Rather, shyness is more related to neuroticism and to one’s susceptibility to fear. To be introverted is simply to be more easily cortically stimulated, and so introverts reach their “overload” point much sooner than other people. An introvert can at times seem awfully “outgoing” around other people, but it’s more exhausting and draining than for extroverts. 4) Also, I don’t see that introverts have much grounds for complaining about bias. In most organizations extroverts will simply be more productive by relaying information more quickly. That’s a very valuable skill.

  • The only anti-introvert bias I tend to encounter that annoys me is the badgering I’ve gotten from more extroverted people regarding how I’m somehow missing out by not being more extroverted. I could just as well say that they’re missing out by spending too much time with other people and not getting the chance to enjoy more solitary activities like reading. I don’t feel that I’m missing out at all.

  • Robin, your link to the Atlantic article is broken.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Anne, as an introvert I sometimes feel like I’m missing out simply because solitary activities can usually be deferred much more than interpersonal ones, for obvious reasons. However, generally I find that passing up social interaction for even the most deferrable solitary activity like reading is ultimately for the better if I’ve had my quota of dealing with other people for the day. (As a high-school student, this quota is almost always reached by 2:00 PM or so.)

    I’d also like to second/third/fourth that introverts can be situationally extroverted around the right people. I’ve been shocked to hear people describe me as “intense” or “outgoing” before realizing that yes, I am intense and outgoing _around these people only_.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Though to modulate my last sentence, I’d like to note that I’ve observed that I often overestimate my introversion (and some other traits) generally, which can predispose me to introverted behavior (as I try to behave in accordance with what I think is my nature), producing a positive feedback loop that (because it drives my behavior in ways contrary to my actual personality) can be harmful. Is there a name for this kind of confirmation bias in self-evaluation?

  • i like introverts. i know many people that also prefer introverts to extroverts. there is a difference between shyness and introversion. introverts choose solitude. shy people may not choose shyness. introverts can express themselves if they choose. shy people have a difficulty expressing themselves.
    as for extroverts they are not rated that highly in the expert books. it seems extroverts can not be with themselves. they need people to feel vibrant.
    since we are human we probably somtimes act intoverted and sometimes extroverted. if an expert makes you feel inferior don’t listen to them.

  • elle

    People confuse introversion and shyness constantly. They are two different things. Shyness, better understood as social anxiety, is a condition that makes a person nervous about being evaluated by others, exceedingly self-conscious, and avoidant of social situations (naturally)that provoke anxiety. This anxiety often manifests in many troubling physical symptoms such as blushing, stuttering, butterflies, etc. Shyness can be overcome and is responsive to a combination of therapy and medicine. Introversion on the other hand is a temperament that cannot be changed. Introverts derive their social energy from time spent alone, and are drained by too much social interaction. Thus, they are often quieter people than extroverts. An introvert could also suffer from shyness or social anxiety, but so could an extrovert. I have know many shy people who are extroverts and many outgoing introverts.

  • Nick Tarleton
  • Do any of your readers know that introverts can be extremely valuable to a company. The specific characteristics they have are desirable in business. Underneath it all, in gradually drawing the potential out of shy introverts can have a significant positive impact to both the shy introverted individual employee and to the bottom line of a company.
    There are many introverts who are salespeople earning in the six figure bracket and many are also motivational speakers. These are just some of the positive advantages shy introverts have. Executives and managers in a company need to understand that shy introverts work differently than extroverts. The other part of this is to get the shy introvert from focusing on their weaknesses because they are a shy introverts strengths. They need to work from their: Skills, Talents, Knowledge and Abilities in order to move them forward in life and feel confident as they reduce their shyness.

  • Lurinda

    I think that what most people here (thanks to elle for her version of this) are missing is that introversion isn’t a fear of being around people and it isn’t shyness. The psychology of Jungian or Myers-Briggs types shows that introversion and extroversion are more indicators of what energizes people. I have found that being around people sucks the life out of me. Being around ideas and abstract thought, usually alone is what makes my brain hum with energy. Usually the ideas are when I’m alone or reading a book. Extreme extroverts who are healthy emotionally would rather be with a group of people that they don’t know because it is the group dynamic that energizes their thinking process.

    Remember extroversion & introversion are not about discomfort in interacting with people. Healthy introverts can go so smoothly through a business day that you wouldn’t perceive of them as shy. The difference is that at the end of the day, the introvert needs to refuel. Just as a scholar I know who spends most of his spare time researching obscure Italian manuscripts has to go out for his daily energy shot at a local pub or coffee shop.

  • Miss Anonymous

    I think the introvert-extrovert factor has actually been documented by brain scans. From what I remember reading, introverts have relatively dense brains, with lots of activity going on inside them, whereas extroverts generally have much less. As there is so much already going on inside an introvert’s head, they (we) can entertain themselves for long periods without stimulation, as the stimulation is internal, whereas extroverts naturally seek external stimulation to start their brain working and can therefore tolerate very much more of it.
    Anne I can definitely understand your frustration! I think I’m going to put Nick’s cartoon on my office door!!

    • Brandon

      @miss anonymous

      Can you elaborate on the stimulation sources for the introvert? You say that introverts can “entertain themselves without stimulation, as the stimulation is internal… ” I am an introvert and I get what you saying for the most part. However, I have one more question for you. Does me reading information on the computer count as internal stimulation? I feel that some external stimulation is required, it is just significantly less than the amount an extrovert would need. Little amounts of information can be contemplated for larger periods of time by an introverted person, in my opinion.

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