You can’t tell an introvert just by looking at them, but you can bet that they are the ones dying just a little bit inside when they have had far too much social interaction for the day.

Think Geek t-shirt

Think Geek t-shirt

It seems intuitive to say that some people are more outgoing than others. The terms thrown around are introverts and extroverts. But is extroversion and introversion a thing? Well yes. According to trait theorists it is one of the big five personality dimensions. McCrae and Costa (2008), proposed 5 personality dimensions: Openness. Contentiousness. Extroversion. Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

Characteristics of extroverts include being sociable, active, talkative, optimistic and person-orientated. In contrast introverts are reserved, unexuberant, aloof, task-orientated and quiet.

It has been suggested that extroverts are energised by social interaction and introverts become drained quickly in these environments. This seems right when we look at the research conducted by Geen (1984) and Fulker, Eysenck, & Zuckerman (1980), that suggest introverts experience more cortical arousal from their environment than extroverts. Situations that invoke high levels of stimuli would over arouse an introvert and so we would expect to see more inhibited behaviors from them.

Of course introversion/extroversion is on a continuum and is not an either or. Many people sit somewhere in-between. But for those that sit on the extreme end of introversion the terrain of life can be challenging sometimes. Think about the life of an introverted kid. They try to learn in highly stimulating classrooms with 20 + other kids all day. Group work is valued and they are expected to participate (because society values collaboration, so kids must be able to work in groups). This is all day, every day. In work places there has been a move to open spaces to increase collaboration and productivity. Ironically these types of spaces are the antithesis of productive spaces for introverts. Too much environmental stimulation quashes thinking and productivity for introverts. We value and reward those who can tell mesmerizing stories in groups and lead in dynamic and charismatic ways. But how does society celebrate and value the quiet thoughts of our introverts? Given 1/3 -1/2 of society (according to Susan Cain) are introverts it is a question worth more thought.

How then might we create optimal thinking and learning spaces for our students and colleagues? I am taken back to a conversation with the lovely Danielle Myburgh who suggested blogs for students to express their thinking. This gives the kids the space and time to express thought at a pace that works for them (maybe at home when all the noise has gone from the school grounds).

I think acknowledging that some students need time to work on their own to get into their own state of flow and not being rigid with timetables. Not making students wrong for not loving group work and creating thinking nooks inside and outside of the classroom to let them recharge (same for work spaces and conferences).

Just because students or adults don’t speak up in group discussions or staff meetings doesn’t mean they don’t have anything meaningful to say. How do we make sure these voices are heard and more importantly valued?



Fulker, D. W., Eysenck., S. B. G., & Zuckerman, M. (1980). A Genetic and Environmental Analysis of Sensation. Seeking Journal of research in personality, 14 (2), 14, 261-281

Geen, R. G. (1984). Preferred Stimulation Levels in Introverts and Extraverts: Effects on Arousal and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 (6), 1303-1312.

McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T, P.T., Jr., (2008). The five factor theory of personality. In O.P. John, R.W Robins, & L.A Pervin (Eds). Handbook of personality: Theory and research. New York: Gilford.





The topic of how we think, reason and make decisions is an important one as the outcomes of our decision-making influences the trajectory of our own and the lives of others.

According to Daniel Kahneman there are two types of thinking: system 1 and system 2. System 1 thinking is fast, unconscious and automatic. System 1 helps us make fast decisions and make sense of our world effortlessly. However system 1 is also responsible for why we fall prey to biases and failures of logical reasoning. This is because system 1 uses heuristics (rules of thumb) to reason and make decisions.
System 2 on the other hand is slow, conscious and deliberate. System 2 engages use of formal logic such as syllogisms. But system 2 is effortful and puts load on our working memory so we are less likely to use it.

System 1 helps us understand and make sense of the world by finding patterns, however this can also lead to a bias where we can fail to estimate correct probability of something happening. When asked which of these sequences would you prefer for a lotto ticket, most people do not choose the top sequence.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
12, 29, 64, 20, 15, 19
10, 60, 42, 28, 30, 16
55, 18, 88, 13, 25, 20

This is because system 1 recognises the bottom three as ‘random’ despite the fact that all four are equally probable to come up in a lotto draw.

Another bias that influences how we make decisions is the anchoring bias. This is where our decisions are influenced by our previous answers to a question or information provided to us. This information acts as an anchor by which we judge all other information. Sale prices on price tags act as an anchor and can make the normal price seem reasonable even if they are outlandish.anchoring bias Checking source articles and using multiple data points (check if your information matches with other sources of information) can help to get the initial assumptions as accurate as possible.

Sometimes we hear people making claims or defending a decision based on their own experience or that of a couple of friends. This glitch in reasoning is called insensitivity to sample size. When only a few people are surveyed there is large variation in that sample and we can’t be confident about drawing conclusions. For example imagine a jar filled with lollies, 1/3 are one colour and 2/3 another.
One person draws 5 lollies out where 4 are red and 1 is white. Another person draws 20 lollies out where 12 are red and 8 are white. Most people say the first person has more evidence that most of the lollies are red, however the second person has a larger sample size which represents a more accurate probability. Newspapers are littered with this type of fallacy. For example a headline “schools are failing students in numeracy” Based on one person saying things like my child isn’t learning the basics in maths at school. This is just one person and one child that may not be achieving for numerous reasons. We can’t make any inference about the state of affairs of numeracy in schools, but these type of articles can and do influence us because of system one thinking.

How we frame a question or problem can influence how we make decisions. Tversky and Kahneman (1981) asked participants in a study to choose between two options in a disaster planning situation. If option A is implemented then 200 people will be saved. If option B is implemented there is a 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved and a 2/3 probability that no one will be saved. 72% of participants preferred plan A and 28% plan B even though both end up with the same amount of people being saved. The point here is that sometimes we may need to re-frame how we talk to people to get them to see the true benefits of differing options. As mentors, teachers or coaches we can re-frame how we talk to students to get them to try new and different things.

One of the hardest biases for us to shake when making decisions would have to be conformation bias. This is when we select information that affirms our current beliefs.
Conformation bias can lead to drawing conclusions that are not correct. Even scientists can fall prey to this bias despite using the scientific method which is designed to remove subjectivity. Constant questioning of our own beliefs and being open to change can help reduce the affects of this rather noxious bias. You can read more about conformation bias in this blog post 

System one and two thinking is food for thought for educators too. We want students to engage in more system 2 thinking so they will make good decisions, but, system 2 thinking is effortful. How can we encourage more system two thinking?

  • One idea could be to give more time for students to slow their thinking down. Give them more time to answer questions and work on problems in class.
  • Making students aware that thinking is a deliberate process that requires lots of effort can help develop the mental model that we have to keep persisting to get the answer sometimes.
  • Teaching critical thinking skills where students are questioning and reflecting on their own beliefs and the information that is presented to them.

  • Encouraging the use of statistics and probability in everyday thinking can help kids smell a rat when system one throws up a hurried answer.
  • Giving students time to revisit decisions and reflect on how they got to their answers can help them become better decision makers.

Can you think of other ways that we can encourage system two thinking?


Confirmation bias is one of the most common biases we humans are subject to. Confirmation bias is the tendency to select and perpetuate information that aligns with our existing beliefs or practices. One can see immediately how problematic this can become for our growth and interactions with others. One example of this noxious bias, is denying climate change exists despite the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that suggest that it does. Confirmation bias also affects our interactions with others as well. We naturally gravitate to those who share similar mental models and goals and it is easy to fall into the trap of feeding echo chambers and promoting similar views to our own. A leaders job is to ensure that there is equal opportunity and that every voice is heard. Sometimes though, it is not enough to provide opportunity. There are many reasons why people may not speak up or take opportunities you present them with.  A leaders job I think, is to help remove the obstacles and blockers that people experience that stop them from reaching their full potential.  We can’t assume that just because a person has not shown interest in something that they are not interested in it (it may just be that for them there are too many perceived obstacles in the way for them to put their hand up). We need to be asking ourselves along the way if everyone is reaching their full potential. If not why not and how am I contributing to that deficit? We need to be reflective practitioners always checking to make sure our time and interest in people is not weighted to those who affirm us or make things easiest. To help avoid falling prey to confirmation bias, leaders can remove hierarchies and encourage a culture of critique and feedback. Confirmation bias is particularly resistant to self correction and so we need others to respectfully challenge our beliefs and mental models. Spend time with people who have very different views and dig deeper into why they hold these views. Invite dissonance in and learn to sit with it, it is in that discomfort that new ways of thinking emerge. Finally, question everything – especially yourself!