The Truth About Introverts & Extroverts: It's Not What You Think
Don't believe the psych hype...
If you know one thing about the different personality traits, it’s probably that Extroverts like to go out and party it up, while Introverts like to sit inside and read a book… Right?
Well, not exactly.
As we know, the human brain is a crazy-complicated thing. There’s a lot more going on in there than meets the eye, and things are not always as they seem. While it may be easy to pass off Introverts as shy and vice versa, the differences run deeper than simply one’s preferred pastimes or how they’re perceived by others.
Do you know which one you really are, and if the world sees you the same way?
Check out the truth behind why some of us put ourselves out there, and others find more energy in solitude. (Turns out, it’s got nothing to do with what society at large would have us believe...)
Firing & Wiring
To truly understand Introversion versus Extroversion and what differentiates the two, we have to examine the neural chemistry in our brains, starting with the dopamine receptors.
It’s all about the dopamine…
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that fuels our reward system, providing the motivation to seek external rewards like money, food, social status, career achievements, and even courting a romantic partner.
When this reward network is set off by these stimuli, we become more social, less inhibited, and acutely aware of our surroundings.
The chain reaction is more extreme in an Extroverted brain, however, showing more activity in the dopamine reward network in reaction to external stimuli than that of an Introvert. This allows Extroverts to be continuously energized rather than eventually burnt out by the stimuli, as is often the case with Introverts.
What’s In It for the Introverts?
While Introverts might get the short end of the dopamine stick, they thrive rather on a lesser-known but equally profound happy chemical called acetylcholine.
This neurotransmitter works similarly to dopamine in its ability to evoke feelings of pleasure, but the stimuli it reacts to is different. Rather than seeking external rewards, acetylcholine draws its reward from within, activating deep contemplation, reflection, and concentration.
Makes sense so far, right? The discrepancies don’t end there, though.
To dig even deeper into the science behind it all, each neurotransmitter is associated with a different side of the nervous system: Sympathetic (dopamine) and Parasympathetic (acetylcholine).
Flight or Flight vs. Rest and Digest
The Extrovert-preferred dopamine is linked to the sympathetic nervous system, which fuels our fight or flight (freeze) response.
Elevated blood sugar and fatty acids give us a jolt of energy, while our digestion and rational brain is reduced, equipping us to make snap decisions and maintain alertness in high-stress situations.
Meanwhile, acetylcholine is associated with the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for slowing down the body for energy conservation and digestion.
Physical symptoms include muscles relaxing, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, metabolizing food, and pupils constricting to prepare the body for rest.
But Wait, There’s More..
In case you’re still not convinced, let the science speak for itself. Studies using brain scans found different patterns in the blood flow activity between Introverted and Extroverted brains, with each type focusing on different parts of the brain.
With Introverts, the blood flow was more prevalent within the frontal lobes, (aka the critical thinking, planning, and problem-solving part of the brain). The frontal lobes are also thought to play a causal role in mind-wandering/daydreaming, which might sound familiar if you or anyone you know falls on the Introverted side of the spectrum.
In Extroverts, the blood flow was more concentrated in the temporal lobes, which are responsible for interpreting sensory data, such as understanding language, face recognition, object recognition, as well as memory acquisition. Fittingly, these are the very functions that allow us to perceive and interact with our external world
All this intel is a far cry from the widespread belief that Extroverts are outgoing attention-seekers, and Introverts are shy and antisocial!
In a nutshell, Introverts feel more satisfied by less dopamine, and Extroverts need more stimulation to switch off their “seek” drive. Humans are fascinating creatures, am I right?
Maggie Johnson | MME Lifestyle Contributor
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