Being an introvert seems like the "it" personality trait of the moment. There are love tips for introverts; advice for introverts climbing the corporate ladder and numerous quizzes claiming to help label us introverted or extroverted.
There's an assumption that —in a social media-ruled world — anyone who isn't a chatty narcissist is an introvert. It's estimated that one-third of us are introverts, but who knew it would be so hip to be one?
"The rise of introversion is no accident," said Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute, Indiana University Southeast. "It is happening at the same time as we have this massive shift in technology that promotes exhibitionism."
Social media allows people to see the loudest extroverts' pictures of wild parties, sky diving and crazy music festivals. This causes less outgoing people to think, "I must be an introvert because I don't go out," he said.
It's not shyness
Introversion is a personality trait where people prefer less social interaction. They have small friend groups and closer relationships with those friends. On the other end of the scale are extraverts who thrive on lots of social engagements, loads of friends and exciting things. In the United States and other Western countries, extraversion has been valued. In fact, having an introverted personality was once considered part of a mental disorder.
“It is not a deficiency of any kind,” said Emanuel Maidenberg, associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Someone who prefers solitary time — is it because they fear social interaction or it is preference? With introversion it is a preference."
It's not social anxiety or shyness, where people are fearful of interacting. In other words, for introverts, it just feels better to be alone.
Here are three things you may not know about introverts.
1. Introverts are so excited.
Introverts' brains show higher levels of cortical arousal than extroverts. This means their brains are already over-stimulated.
“Introverts seem to be born with a level of arousal that is higher than average,” said Carducci. “This is why they prefer not to be around loud noises and big parties.”
And, introverts have higher heart rates and EEG rates that indicate excitement, said Barry Smith, professor emeritus and director of the Laboratories of Human Psycholophysiology at the University of Maryland.
“One reason that introverts tend to avoid a lot of social stimulation is because they are already aroused,” he said. “They have less social needs.”
2. True introverts are rare.
“The vast majority of the population is neither an introvert or extrovert. They are ambiverts,” said Smith.
Ambiverts display characteristics of both introversion and extraversion and Smith suspects that most people fall into this category. And, introversion remains situational for many.
“We all find ourselves on some point of the continuum. We will find ourselves needing solitary time and [needing] people,” said Maidenberg.
What’s more, Smith said, the difference between an introvert and an ambivert remains small.
“A person who is introverted is only about 10 percent more introverted than average,” he said.
3. Introverts know how to make small talk.
At a party both an introvert and a shy person might stand against the wall —but their reasons differ. Shy people don’t understand how to talk to people and fear what might happen if they do open up.
“These people avoid social interaction because they are fearful of being judged,” said Maidenberg.
"Introverts can still be social and know how to" make small talk, said Carducci.
They simply avoid many social situations because they feel too excited.
Introverts might show up late to a party and try to blend into the crowd. But because they are easily overwhelmed, introverts should show up early, when the music might be lower and the crowd smaller, said Carducci.
This gives their brains more time to acclimate to the over-stimulating environment.