Written By: Robyn Shulman
With the ever-growing focus on the social, emotional, and developmental needs of our students, there is no better time than now to highlight the gifts of our introverted students. There is a social stigma, a host of myths, and a superficial blanket of beliefs about introverts. It is time to uncover the myths, remove the superficial blanket, and embrace our social behavioral diversities.
Introverts and Extroverts: The Brain
According to various studies, and as stated by Dan Buettner in Thrive via Psychology Today, the brain of an introvert vs. an extrovert is simply wired differently, with a greater or less need for the dopamine chemical. Our brains release dopamine when we experience something positive. It’s an automatic reward center that makes us feel good. Extroverts need more dopamine to feel an effect, whereas introverts have a low dopamine threshold. Extroverts thrive on dopamine. Introverts don’t require a great deal of stimulation to feel rewarded, and when too much dopamine is triggered, an introvert will quickly feel tired, overwhelmed and even anxious.
The front part of an introvert’s brain is most active and stimulated by his or her own thoughts. Introverts enjoy quiet, solitary and/or small group activities such as reading, writing, painting and problem solving. The back parts of an extrovert’s brain are the most active. Extroverts are stimulated by the outside world. Extroverts thrive on noise, attending social events and large gatherings, throwing parties, and taking part in large group meetings. They are quick to speak, rather than listen quietly.
Common Myths About Introverts:
1. They are shy and/or timid: There is a big difference between being shy and being an introvert. Shy people tend to move away from social situations based on fear or feelings of rejection. Introverts are not afraid of social events or people. They simply need a valid reason to engage in conversation. They prefer deep conversations with one person, rather than loud group conversations especially if the topic does not attract their interest.
2. They don’t talk often: They love talking about ideas that hold their interest. They greatly enjoy talking with those that have the same ideas, projects and topics aligned with who they are and where they want to go. In large groups, they tend to listen much more than talk, and they think about what to say before they share their insight. They do not jump into conversations based on impulse, but rather, take time to evaluate, construct and share their opinions.
3. They believe they are above others: They may appear this way, however, they are simply taking in and digesting more. They will speak when the time is right. They do not view themselves above anyone else in the room. They are peacefully enjoying their own quiet.
4. They are neurotic and/or think too much: Introverts are known to think a great deal. There is a difference between being neurotic and thinking a lot. Introverts enjoy their own thoughts, and do not need a great deal of stimulation to confirm their feelings.
5. They don’t enjoy being around people: They do like being around people, however, their time is limited because they physically tolerate much less than an extrovert. Spending more than 2 hours at a party can be exhausting for an introvert, while an entire night may not be enough for an extrovert (dopamine and neurotransmitters).
6. They don’t like to go out in public or attend social events: Yes, they do; however, they prefer problem solving, reading, and spending time daydreaming up their next big idea or project. They are content with their own thoughts and ideas. They thrive on discovering, research, and writing. Introverts interpret and judge situations very quickly, and don’t feel the desire or have the energy to be out in public for endless hours.
7. They are odd and/or different: They don’t follow the crowd. Introverts follow their own paths based on their own minds and decisions. They are their own leaders.
8. They are boring: They may be boring to an extrovert, as their needs are greatly different. They are not boring, rather, they are filled with passion, projects, and developments within their busy minds.
9. They are socially inept: They are not socially inept or afraid. They need less social interaction and more individual based time alone to grow and nourish their soul. They do not feel comfortable around many people and/or in noisy situations. Crowds are not their friends. However, if 2 introverts are in a room together, one may find great debates taking place or hear a great deal of small talk about big things.
10. They should change to ‘fit’ society’s expectations: They should never change, nor can they change physically. Many of our greatest leaders and inventors were and are introverts. We should embrace their uniqueness and leave them to flourish. Micromanaging an introvert is like turning off a light bulb. We should embrace their talents, respect their needs, and let them be who they are intended to be.
What is a teacher to do with an introverted student?
1. Give the introverted student the ability to learn and share in his or her own way.
2. Do not force group work; rather, let an introverted student choose his/her best path for optimal performance.
3. Share this gift with other students by showing them that it is okay to be on the quiet side (there is nothing wrong with being a bit quieter with one’s own thoughts and feelings).
4. Realize that every student will not be a ‘social butterfly,’ while displaying approval.
5. Don’t force the student to be a ‘people person’ or refer to him/her as socially challenged. There is nothing socially, emotionally, or developmentally wrong with an introverted student.
6. Provide them with the opportunities to explore and encourage their interests, in their own ways. For example, it is known that introverts love to write, rather than speak.
7. Celebrate the differences in behaviors within your class.
8. Give them space and time to grow. Let them find their own path within your classroom.
9. Respect who they are and listen to them.
10. Don’t try and change an introvert, as this comes with great consequence. See them for who they are and embrace their uniqueness, projects and discoveries.
If we let our students be who they are as opposed to training them to be what society states is the “norm,” our world will open up. We will discover great problem-solvers and inventors, hear more magical music, and we will be part of a world that encourages and supports historical game changers.
If you happened to miss the talk given by Susan Cain, please take a few minutes to hear her amazing story below.
Are you letting your child and/or student is who they are naturally? Why or why not?