I was an introvert before I even knew what the word meant. As I got older, I realized that there are more than a few pervasive myths about introverts that categorize what kind of people we must be. Of course, I knew these myths to be untrue, unfair, and sometimes, even a little cruel. And I've oftentimes made a point of debunking them. At home. By myself.
I've always been curious about this dichotomy we've created between the introvert and extrovert— the supposed antisocial loner and the social butterfly. When was it that one was deemed more desirable than the other? What's wrong with preferring the company of a select few (or no one at all) over the company of many? When did being an introvert become "ugly" in society's eyes? It's a strange happening, particularly when you consider that science has found reason to believe we're born as introverts or extroverts — not nurtured into one or the other.
There's more to it than some people realize. We're all wired differently, and some of us are inevitably going to find fulfillment in places completely different from others. In comparing and contrasting introverts and extroverts, one is no lesser or greater than the other.
But, if you're going to start a conversation about the differences between the two, before you rush to assign value to each (which you shouldn't at all), let's get a few things straight, and debunk these myths about introverts once and for all.
1. MYTH: Being Around A Lot Of People Gives Introverts Anxiety
This isn't to say that introverts don't experience anxiety; however, they don't automatically experience it as a result of being an introvert. In fact, one study found that when it comes to public speaking, although introverts did feel more anxious, 84 percent of it had nothing to do with being introverted. It was more determined by whether they were anxious people in general, whether the people around them were hostile, and whether they feared failure.
2. MYTH: Introverts Don't Make Good Leaders
A good deal of research has compared introverts and extroverts as leaders and found the latter to be better equipped. However, such is not necessarily the case. Similar to the previous example, this is largely dependent on other factors. One study noted that while extroverts are likelier to pursue positions of leadership, both types of people are equally successful. When employees were more passive and in need of direction, an extroverted leader was the better fit and led to higher profits. With more proactive, vocal employees, an introverted leader proved the better choice.
3. MYTH: Introverts Are Shy
Introversion and shyness have somehow become interchangeable in our cultural lexicon, but in actuality, they are two completely different things. The American Psychological Association defines shyness as "the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people." It can even manifest physically in the form of blushing, sweating, stomach problems, and a rapid heartbeat. This often leads to people viewing introverts as avoidant or even rude.
The truth is — as Psychology Today explains perfectly — that many introverts can socialize fairly easily; we just strongly prefer not to. We are energized and motivated under more solitary conditions; and science has found that we can even be more empathic and better able to relate to others than extroverts can.
4. MYTH: Introverts Aren't As Exciting As Extroverts
This obviously depends on your definition of exciting, but either way, there's this widespread misconception that introverts are boring compared to the risk-taking extrovert. What many see as boredom, though, science has determined to simply be a difference in the way our brains work.
A 2012 study found that compared to extroverts, we introverts have thicker, larger gray matter in our prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain associated with abstract thought and decision-making. So, what many mistake as a distaste for excitement is merely the need to think everything through very thoroughly.
5. MYTH: Introverts Don't Like People
Lies, lies, lies. It's not that we dislike people; it's that we get stimulated far more easily than extroverts. As early as the 1960s, science had already discovered that extroverts have a lower level of what they called "arousal," meaning that they require more stimulation from their environment to feel alert. There's a notable difference in dopamine and the brain's reward system when it comes to extroverts. Their amygdala and nucleus accumbens show a unique response to social stimulation.
It's easy for introverts, however, to get too much of the stimulation extroverts crave so badly. While an extrovert might love the feeling of being in a bustling nightclub all night long, an introvert might stay 10 minutes and feel completely satisfied. Their threshold is in a different place.