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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, December 12, 2011

10 (alleged) myths about introverts

Not sure whether all of this article is correct, but it's interesting to me as someone who is decidedly introverted.

As with all exercises that involve compiling lists of myths, there are two main questions. First, are these myths really Out There, i.e. do a lot of people really think these things? Second, are these things actually false? If they turn out to be largely true, after all, we can't call them myths.

What do you think? Some of the points made certainly match up with my experience (e.g. the point about having a rather small number of very treasured friends). Others do not so much, but they are obviously (I dare say) meant to be generalisations rather than descriptions of me in particular! As a matter of fact, the author says it's based on his own experience, so if anything it's a description of him. How well does it generalise?


Anonymous said...

Good and accurate summaries. I have encountered all of these myths first-hand as an MBTI Introvert.

I even had a supervisor try to sign me up for (involuntary) psychological counseling because I did not speak up in meetings and always wanted a while to think about new information.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. A lot of descriptions comport with my own experience (I am an "introvert"), but then again, that's how astrology works. I question the validity of the introvert/extrovert continuum in the first place as an accurate description of human minds, but this book is even more suspect. The claims made reek of oversimplification and pop psychology. Few cognitive traits are ever as simple as "one group is more sensitive to dopamine, and that explains all of the differences we ascribe to them." Indeed, if you search for Marti Laney on Google Scholar, you find that she doesn't seem to have any peer-reviewed research to her name. Just books for lay audiences. I'm as interested as the next guy in what makes me different from other people, but this "research" hardly seems enlightening.

Tim Martin

Alex said...

They do read as if they are talking about me, however as with all things that tries to be absolute there's always some flexibility at the edge of the constraints (that on a rare occasion leads to direct falsehood). As a general statement, I think the confluence is more or less true, though. My wife, though, is the opposite, and I often joke that she's my social alibi, which becomes true the older I get.

Mike said...

The best simple distinction I have read is that while extroverts seek other people to re-energise, introverts need to be alone.

Charles Sullivan said...

I used to be an introvert, but I desired to be more extroverted, and changed my behavior. I imagine it wasn't a matter of free will since I had the desire to change.

Russell Blackford said...

Or it was a matter of free will, since you were able to act effectively on your desire.

Svlad Cjelli said...

"Or it was a matter of free will, since you were able to act effectively on your desire."

Phrased like this, good enough. But if he weren't able, it wouldn't be free, by the same token.

Svlad Cjelli said...

(And why should a will always be free when a car is not, even though free cars are documented?)

March Hare said...

Absolute nonsense, that's people with borderline Asperger's that's being described not shy people.

Anonymous said...

@March Hare: check out myth #2.

thefloatinglantern's concerns about Laney's qualifications are valid, though it might be better to look up the research itself rather than the person presenting it. Actually, the bit about dopamine resonated with me because I do have a rather addiction-prone personality and it does feel to me like it's tied in with all the other aspects of introversion mentioned in the blog post. For example, in college I could bury myself in math problem sets for 6 hours at a time because the rush of seeing the trick behind a problem would get me into an obsessive sort of spiral where I couldn't tear myself away. I have a similar relationship with TV and video games where I have a fair amount of trouble pulling myself away.

All 10 points seem to reflect my experience. Charles Sullivan mentions changing his behavior to be more extroverted...well, I've done the same relative to how I was as a teenager but I'm still an introvert for the reasons mentioned in the article (few, strong ties instead of many, weak ties; recharge in isolation instead of with other people; sensory overload very quickly in busy environments). Part of the problem might be that I actually am shy on top of being introverted, though.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, that's part of the problem for me. I'm introverted, no doubt, but I'm also actually shy. Thus, the statement about introverts not being shy did not resonate with me. Of course, introverts may not necessarily be shy just because I am.

Someone should do a list of myths about shy people. Sometimes people are incredulous when told by me - or by friends who know me well - that I am shy. After all, I am not afraid of public speaking and am actually quite good at it. Most people are (so it's said) terrified of public speaking, so the thinking seems to be that shy people would be even more so. But no, many shy people actually enjoy public performance of one kind or another and find it to be a kind of outlet. Plenty of trial lawyers, public speakers, fashion models, musicians, and on and on, are actually quite shy.

Again, you can dress well or even flamboyantly (not talking about myself with the latter), make jokes, and do many other things that don't fit the shyness stereotype ... and still be not only introverted but downright shy. These things are a lot more subtle than matters of overt presentation.

Shy people do tend to be a bit reserved in manner, and this is often mistaken for being judgmental or arrogant. Put your hand up if you've had that one! I certainly have.

Mike said...

I definitely agree that public performance through debating or public speaking is no contraindication for shyness or introversion. It's a controlled environment. That said I find my desire to say as few words as possible in normal conversation spill over into the way I write in long form. I hate padding in text so much that it's a real effort for me to stretch out text without adding more substantial content. When I was writing papers for my masters, my philosophy tutor used to complain I'd write one page where others would write three.

As you grow older you also learn strategies to handle certain situations but I don't find I am any less shy or introverted than I was as a child. There are definitely still situations where I struggle.

I hate probing people directly in conversation so sometimes come off as being uninterested in the other person. A neighbour once accused me of this but then I recounted everything I'd learnt of her during our conversation, which was much more than she'd got from her direct interrogation of me. And I'm spookily good at anticipating what friends will say next so I would probably make a good cold reader.

Russell Blackford said...

I relate to the one about not wanting to probe people. I feel very awkward when asking people about themselves ... at least if we're talking about conversations with relative strangers. In the right setting, I'll happily ask friends quite "deep" questions about how they think and feel about stuff, but the operative words here are "right setting" and "friends". I have a much lower threshold than most people seem to of when I feel I'm being intrusive (and probably a lower threshold of when I feel intruded upon, though I must also say that I do like being "drawn out" if it's in an appropriate setting and done in a way that allows for reflection and so on).

On the being concise thing. Hmmm. I'm often accused of being wordy, but I think that's because I'm very interested in details, nuances, verbal confusions, ambiguities, and the like, and in trying to get it right (with all the qualifications, disclaimers of uncertainty, etc., that seem necessary to me). I often write at more length than other people do on the same topic, because I like to explore and tease out these sorts of things, whereas a lot of people seem to be very impatient with them and only seem to care about the bottom line in some crude sense. When I was doing legal or quasi-legal work, I had to temper this a bit, because, really, the client just wants to know what you think s/he should do!

I do hate stuff that looks like mere padding. This puts me off a lot of journalistic writing. My motto is always, "Cut to the chase!" even if the chase actually involves a lot of twists and turns.

Alex said...

I guess the definition of "shy" is interesting, as I'm sure you're not shy to your wife and kids, but perhaps the more generic population. I'm the same, but don't consider myself shy as such.

However, being a foreigner of a somewhat introvert nature coming to Australia where introvert is defined as "bubbly" certainly has been challenging, and it has often happened that people taken my quiet self as a sign of rudeness (or worse). I've some times found myself in conversations having to state that I should be allowed to be myself without it being interpreted as something bad, especially given the meek nature of the "problematic" behaviour (like, not jumping up and down and yelling "Good, mate, how are you?!", but a more polite "good, good. And you?")

Verbose Stoic said...


For a long time, I was both shy and introverted. A few years ago, I concluded that while I was still introverted, I was no longer shy, mostly because at my work I was forced to deal with new people all the time and lost most if not all of my trepidation and inability to deal with that. I still have moments, but for the most part I overcome them.

The public speaking thing comes up for both shy people and introverts. I had people use my debating experiences and my ability to give presentations against both. But that was never the issue for me; it was always dealing with people personally that was the problem.

I also get the "wordy" criticism, but in a lot of cases my reply is "You can't address complicated questions in soundbytes". I usually don't have problems filling essay page limits, instead having trouble stopping at them [grin].