x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Introverts get lost in the cacophony of extrovert noise

We can change our personaality type, but not beyond our gentic limits, says Ayesha Almazroui.

‘She is very smart. But you know what? She is a narcissistic person. She does not like anyone except herself and her close group,” my friend told me the other day.

“Maybe she is just an introvert,” I replied. My friend shook her head and said: “No, she is not. She is a social person.”

All of us are, to some degree, guilty of judging those who have different personalities to our own, and we do so for a simple reason: because we unconsciously think that person should be more like us.

Students of human nature and psychologists have also long divided people up based on how they think, feel and act.

Our personality inevitably has a profound impact on our lives: on who we choose as friends and what we talk about, the way we deal with conflicts and show emotions. Professionally, our personalities determine our career choices and whether we succeed at what we do.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain argues that “the single most important aspect of personality ... is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum”.

Statistics have suggested that introversion and extroversion, like other major personality traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, are about 40 to 50 per cent inherited, which can mean that half of the variability in introversion-extroversion is caused by genetics.

Introverts and extroverts are two fundamentally different categories of people. While there are many meanings and definitions of introvert and extrovert, scientists tend to agree that those two types differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. They also differ in the way they express, interact and get the work done.

These personalities aren’t absolute, the level of introversion and extroversion differ from person to person, depending on where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. But each type has a general set of distinguishing traits.

According to research, introverts are generally quiet, they prefer to listen than to talk, they tend to think before they speak and like to focus on one task at a time, and they are comfortable with solitude. Extroverts are generally loud, they prefer talking to listening, they are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking, and they like to spend all their time around people.

Introverts are often perceived as shy or anti-social because unlike extroverts, they don’t enjoy small talk, tend to have a small number of friends and prefer environments that are not overstimulating, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are shy (fear of social disapproval or humiliation), or anti-social (a personality disorder characterised by a disregard for other people’s right).

Cain argues that we live in a world that values people who are bold, outgoing and entertaining, which are generally the traits of extroverts. In both schools and workplaces, extroverts can be perceived as smarter and more knowledgable because they talk and discuss their ideas more.

She explains that “Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform,” she adds, after describing herself as an introvert.

But does that mean we cannot change? No. We have free will and can use it to shape our personalities, which might seem contradictory but it’s not. “Free will can take us far,” research quoted by Cain suggests, “but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits.”

We need to keep all of this in mind when judging other people; – at home, school, work and elsewhere. Things are not always how they appear to be.

aalmazrouei@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui