Many parents understand when I say that my two boys are like night and day. One seeks to be around people, enjoying every minute of adventuring and going out to do things, while the other prefers the solitary joy of his seclusion.
Some may argue that teenagers go through stages, and my boy is just shy and reclusive as he tries to discover who he is. To them, I argue right back: no. My son is an introvert. It’s who he has always been, and who he will always be, and there is nothing wrong with that.
More Than Just Social Behavior
Many see introversion as simply being anti-social. They don’t like people or are simply shy, and thus prefer to keep to themselves. The social behavior of both extroverts and introverts is actually a side-product of two things:
- The reward neurotransmitters they’re brain feeds on, and
- The different paths information takes through the brain
It’s not just a behavior choice: the way the extrovert’s brain functions are fundamentally different than that of an introvert, and thus they process information differently.
We can get a deeper understanding by looking each of these two factors individually.
The Brain’s Reward System
When you do well in life, you expect a reward. This is just as true in your brain as it is at your job. For extroverts, this reward is dopamine. When they strike out to try something new, that rush of “feel good” vibes is the dopamine at work.
Extroverts can’t get enough. As far as they’re concerned, the more the better. In an interesting study, experts suspect that they store and retrieve memories differently when they’re on a dopamine high, increasing recall.
Contrary to this, introverts are far more sensitive to dopamine. They have a limit, and when they receive too much they can become agitated and anxious as their system overloads. This is why most introverts, when in loud or crowded situations, soon seek the nearest exit for a breather.
For introverts, their brain is wired for acetylcholine. It produces the same “feel good” vibes that dopamine does, but instead of getting it when out and about, it’s released when at home, doing something more internally pleasing, like reading a book.
The second difference between them is how information is processed. For extroverts, info goes through the centers of the brain for sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This allows the brain to understand what’s happening, and respond quickly, attributing to extroverts and their impulse control issues.
For introverts, these same stimuli hit the major areas, but also passes through the centers for speech, and emotional response. This explains why introverts often sit quietly and absorb things before responding.
The differences between introverts and extroverts, while fascinating, are also helpful to understanding why we do the things we do. The more we can understand that, the more we can help one another through this crazy journey called life.