Friday, August 05, 2005
Introversion, shyness and neuroticism ::

In March I blogged a rant (what I claim was a "humorous and polemic piece" ;) on shyness and a report in Time magazine that related to some research on shyness. (The article has now become more valuable with age and is "premium content" - corporate-speak for "if you are still interested you'll have to pay to see it"). One of the people involved in the research (NOT the Time article) has responded in the comments, so I'll reproduce the comment here:
I understand your frustration and, as someone closely connected with this work, feel that the Time authors are somewhat to blame for not adequately illuminating subtleties in the research. I am referring to the differences between two competing neural-behavioral systems: neuroticism and extroversion. Whereas extraversion involves the desire to engage with others, neuroticism concerns an individual's tendency to experience negative emotion, including emotion surrounding social situations. The two interact with one another to produce overt "shyness", although it is difficult to disentangle the relative impact of the two systems.

You are right that it is unfair to expect everyone to be an extravert. Whereas some folks need to ring in the new year surrounded by thousands in Times Square, other would prefer a quiet evening with a select few.

The judgmental tone of the article, though, is presumably aimed toward shyness that is more strongly based in neuroticism. Although some folks may embrace solitude, several others are isolated not because they wish to be, but because their physiological responses prevent them from engaging more fully in the social arena.

It is these individuals, who crave interaction but shrink from it, who may benefit from treatments for what, TO THEM, truly is a problem.
I'm still not entirely happy. I can see, and quite accept, that a combination of Introversion and Neuroticism may be one that needs "curing" or "treatment". But I know that the combination of Extraversion and Neuroticism does too. (I won't name you, but you know who you are!)

I can even accept, and recognise in myself that it might be better if I learned ways to tackle the more extreme manifestations of my Introversion. My point is that I just wish Western Society would spend as much time and effort telling stupid, loud-mouthed, aggressive, extroverts to shut the *** up, as is spend bemoaning the less disruptive behaviour of us introverts... Who needs curing, the person who because they want to bask in the limelight forces the rest of us to behave like idiots, or the person who sits quietly in a corner chatting (from time to time, as they are moved) to a few others?

Now, I may well be blaming the authors of the research wrongly, I have not seen their reports. But phrases from the Time article, and again from this comment, make me squirm. The commenter wrote: "The two [neuroticism and introversion - which incidentally seems to be defined as lack of extroversion!] interact with one another to produce overt 'shyness'..." "Overt shyness" so it's OK for me to be shy, just so long as I don't display it where others can see!

Now, above I mentioned "Western Society", this is important, because most other societies actually value a touch of Introversion. Think of the biblical injunctions against being a blabbermouth, or pushing yourself forward. Or notice how in African or Polynesian cultures the person who is unassuming gains honour...

But I've probably allowed my traces of extroversion free reign too long, the commenter has a good point, that also needs to be heard:
It is these individuals, who crave interaction but shrink from it, who may benefit from treatments for what, TO THEM, truly is a problem.
I entirely agree, to the extent that someone desires interaction but shrinks from it they have a problem, and deserve advice and assistance. But let the person choose for them selves. Too often brash extroverts decide for us, and I still want to be alone!


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