The tortoise and the hare.


So how exactly do introverts’ brainzzz work?

Well I have read two books on the matter, neither of them by neuroscientists, so they are both just reporting on other people’s experiments, but some of the theories that have had actual studies confirming them are:

  • Brain MRIs have shown that when introverts are exposed to any outside stimulus at all, whether it be a sound or a picture, this stimulus is processed via a longer pathway in the brain than the pathway used by extroverts.

I have always known that processing certain social stimuli is very taxing to me.

For example, large parties filled with people I barely know or do not know are killers for me. I will probably spend the day after such an event in bed trying to recover. Those situations drain the energy out of me. And one explanation for this is that all of that conversation and noise and unfamiliarity is treated by my brain as valuable data that all needs to be intensively processed by this long and arduous pathway that extrovert brains bypass.

It never occured to me that my brain was doing this for all stimuli though, like the noise of the train home or watching a movie, or just anything. I am tired a lot of the time, so it does make sense. For me and most introverts, the ideal way of feeling energy-restored is in a very low-stimulus enviroment. For me the ideal is reading, or just pretending to read, while staring at the ceiling and letting my brain drift for hours.

Many extroverts actually think by talking, much as this concept blows my mind. Trust me, I do not. My brain is too busy processing stuff to think while speaking, that quick access pathway in the brain that generates thought as I speak just aint happening.

An interesting side effect of this is that people sometimes think that introverts are dumb. I did not personally encounter this attitude, thankfully.

But if you have a parent who likes to drill your maths skills verbally, you may not be able to think quickly enough to respond, and your parent may think you are a dumbass. If you are introverted and are left alone with a pencil to ponder things out in a quiet environment on your own, you will get the answers just fine.

For me, because my brain does that splitting thing when other people are there, where it feels like half of my brain is busy monitoring what is going on with the other person, my quick verbal skills are pretty shite. Thinking out loud is very hard for me. Only I never realised why before!

Another thing is that when teachers ask questions or ask you what you think at school, if you are an introvert the chances are, you are sitting there with a blank mind, and myabe you are thinking you are dumb. But all that is happening is your brain is taking everything in, but in a deep and detailed way, and there is no way it has time to process it all while you are sitting there and people are yapping away. You need to go off to a quiet place and let your brain finish its processing. Then you will think of questions and opinions. And because your brain has assigned so much time and effort to those thoughts, they will probably be pretty valuable.

This is something I noticed at school and university. I always felt bad that I never put my hand up to ask things or give an opinion. I felt bad that my head always seemed so blank in class. Was I a person devoid of opinion and thought? Yet I always did well at school. Obviously my brain did a bunch of thinking, just in its own time and in its own optimal conditions.

Yikes, this post is already too long and I never even got to the other theories of how introverted brains work. A certain trait of introverts is the ability to go on and on in a sustained manner about subjects that interest them.

I guess I get a big tick in the box for that one :P

PS sorry extroverts that I don’t have much to say about you. I love extroverts and they are my favourite people to hang out with. Introverts can be quite hard work sometimes, I should know. But I am banking on the fact that all those dense paragraphs of writing put you off ages ago.



8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. helen
    May 23, 2012 @ 21:35:01

    Wow that is interesting! I always knew introverts as getting their energy from being alone, while extroverts get their energy from other people. I am a weird hybrid, I was always an introvert and a bit of a loner, but at some point I got sick of being ignored and started training myself to be louder. By the end of varsity I was one of the annoying ones who always asked/answered questions in class.


  2. helen
    May 23, 2012 @ 21:37:09

    Wow that is interesting! I always knew introverts as getting their energy from being alone, while extroverts get their energy from other people. I am a weird hybrid, I was always an introvert and a bit of a loner, but at some point I got sick of being ignored and started training myself to be louder. By the end of varsity I was one of the annoying ones who always asked/answered questions in class.

    But even now, while I often need to be alone to ‘recharge’ I also get a lot of strength from friends and being with certain people, it’s almost like I switched camps or something. Put me in a group of strangers though and I am am a total disaster, I need my ‘people’ to be my loud obnoxious self.

    Is there information on introverts extending their ‘self’ to a small group of people?


  3. Po
    May 23, 2012 @ 21:40:50

    helen, I think being more verbal and thinking out loud is a skill that can be learned, even for introverts. I have had to learn at my current job cos my boss is always asking me questions, and at first I used to gape at him, because the information he needed from me was not accessible to me in that moment. I needed to go away and think and write a bit and then I would have the answer. But I was aware of how dumb I seemed, so I worked on it!

    Also, introverts definitely need interaction with people, and some even love it, they just need to have it in an optimal way (usually with people we know well or have at least met, and usually in smallish groups) and and give themselves recovery time too. Shyness has nothing to do with introvertedness. I think a good test is if you are comfortable spending any time alone at all. Really extroverted people are not.

    Anyway, you get ambiverts, who are the lucky, balanced people. Maybe you are one of them!


    • helen
      May 23, 2012 @ 21:45:14

      Thanks, I hope so, but it definitely is a recent development if it is!

      I know if I have issues with people I have real problems verbalising them – often when I fight with p1 I have to write out my side of things, it’s usually deal with half on email (me) and half verbally (him), weird but it works!

      My therapist used to talk about a couple who were unable to fight verbally but had a ‘grievance book’ where they would write down stuff that upset them, and the pasrtner would write replies…


  4. Po
    May 23, 2012 @ 21:45:21

    Sorry I only saw your last question now! As to information about introverts extending themselves to a small group, that is exactly how they love to socialise! In that kind of situation you would probably not be able to guess if a person is introverted or extroverted. My best social situations ever were 21st birthdays cos I usually knew everyone there in some way or another. Argh I wish I was still young enough for those :P

    I am a disaster in large crowds of unkown people too. It feels like I have this energy that equalises with people the more I know them, so the more I know them the less tired I become around them. If I barely know someone or don’t know them, it is like all of my energy or my consciousness drains straight out of me into them. It sucks.


  5. Po
    May 23, 2012 @ 21:48:34

    Ha I also need to process emotions in written form. Actually I process everything optimally via writing. As do most introverts. Hmmmmm, you definitely show some signs of introvertedness, but don’t worry, we are cool too! And some of us/them are super sociable (unlike me), but just need to chill out as well sometimes. Maybe you should read some of the books, I find it does actually really help to know roughly what you are either way, it can help to understand why you do the things you do.


  6. paulabubble
    May 24, 2012 @ 19:15:46

    oh my….

    I really don’t know where I fit in all of this. If you read my comment in your prev. post about being an introvert. I go on about being a bit of both. I can sometimes figure things out while I talk. But that’s only if I have other texts to associate the answer I’m coming to from.

    I re-read your post because um… wait, so I’m not slow.

    Gah! This is revelational. But now I feel like a false introvert because people who know me well say that I am an extrovert.

    Maybe I am slow.

    Or can a person really get to that point where they are seemingly extroverted but are really introverted.

    Because I hate clubs and have to be insanely drunk to adjust, but my brain is porblematically analitical and I have points of contension when it comes to the duties and responsibilities of an extrovert… I like lie ins with books, small crowds but I also love conversation.

    ugh, I’ll come back and comment properly tomorrow when I’ve thought about what I am saying.


  7. Prixie (@prixi3)
    May 25, 2012 @ 05:03:02

    Hmmm…. interesting indeed! This explains a lot about me too. So much makes sense now! Thanks for sharing Po!


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