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.
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.