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    Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {Equivocating on Introversion?}

    January 26, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    We define the intro/extrovert based upon an energy continuum. You’re invigorated by being around people–you’re an extrovert; you’re drained by people and refreshed by alone time–you’re an introvert. When we start to bring in “introvert” and “extrovert” characteristics like this:

    Extroverts think and talk all at one time. It is effortless to them. In fact, things become clearer as they speak out loud. Introverts, on the other hand, need time to think and don’t speak with spontaneity unless it’s a familiar subject

    we change the basis of the assessment. When we say an extrovert “thinks out loud”, we’re now talking about the way a person processes information or expresses it. I think this can be related to how one is energized/refreshed, but not causally.

    –from a comment by Rahime

    This comment is the perfect place to begin today’s post, I think. I’ve almost completed my reading of Chapter Three, and I was thinking along the same lines, though I hadn’t been able to draw this clear of a distinction. Thankfully, Rahime did this for us! Dr. Laney {our author} initially defines introversion, as well as extroversion, as opposite ends of an energy continuum.

    In fact, she spendsmost of Chapter 2 defying the stereotypes. Introverts are not:

    1. Reclusive, retiring types {p. 38}
    2. Shy {p. 43}
    3. Schizoid {p. 44}
    4. Highly sensitive {p. 45}
    5. Self-centered {p. 46}
    6. Anti-social {p. 47}

    Now, she doesn’t mean that it is impossible for introverts to be any or all of these things, but rather than these things are not inherent in what is meant to be introverted. For instance, shyness implies a certain level of fear or uncertainty that both an introvert as well as an extrovert might have.

    But Rahime made the perfect distinction here. How can we say that “introversion is not the same thing as shyness” or “shyness is not an absolute quality of introversion” and then, in the same breath, say that “introversion is the same thing as processing information inside of the mind” or that “processing information inside of the mind {as compared to processing it verbally} is an absolute quality of introversion?”

    How can some of us say that we are introverts, but, when we are with intimate friends, we process our thoughts aloud? Does this mean we are not “true” introverts?

    The Darwinian Anthropology

    Chapter 3 gives us some insights into why the author is reasoning in this way. As I think about it, I actually think she is being consistent within her own worldview. In Chapter 3, the author equates introversion and extroversion to evolutionary adaptation. Our personalities, she says, are not unlike finches on the Galapagos Islands:

    Darwin studied the finches on the Galapagos Islands. He found that in response to environmental demands, the birds had adapted and developed specialized beaks. The diversity of beaks allowed them access to different feeding niches. Instead of eating only insects, they could now eat a varied diet consisting of insects, berries, seeds, and nuts. This increased the entire species’ chances for survival.

    When Jung, an admirer of Darwin, first wrote about introversion and extroversion, it was clear that he was thinking about temperament from an evolutionary perspective. He saw each variation of temperament as requiring its own optimal environment, a natural niche where it could flower. Having people who thrive in different optimal environments increases the chances of survival of the human race as a whole. It is nature’s way to preserve her species.

    This is an important portion of the book, because it shows us where we part company with the author. While we look at introversion and extroversion, and see the creativity of God in making many different types of people for the purpose of glorifying Himself, Jung saw a species simply adapting to its environment for the purpose of survival.

    Jung seems to be Dewey’s equivalent in the field of psychology. Just as Dewey defined the student as an organism which needed to be taught to adapt to its environment, so Jung saw the ‘verts. This means we must tread lightly. When Dewey redefined students in this way, the result was a redefinition of knowledge {there is none, only skills} and the beginning of the destruction of education in this country. It doesn’t logically follow that Jung will have the same result, but there is cause here to pay attention.

    The commonality is that Dewey and Jung are both using a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, view of man. Jung described how introverts are, rather than seeking what we call in education the Golden Mean or the Ideal Type. He does not ask the question of how we should be.

    So is This About More Than Energy?

    Unfortunately, it is about more than energy. But first, let’s remember a something: the author is assuming a material definition of man. So far, there is no mention of man as anything other than an organism. There is no spiritual component to his being assumed. Based on this, if you are reading along, you will begin to notice the author making comments such as “this is how your brain is,” “your brain is just that way,” and “your brain works like this.”

    As Christians, we believe that man is a harmony of body and spirit. A human body without a spirit is dead; a human spirit without a body is naked. In Christianity, the soul, rather than the brain organ, is the seat of personality. And though, as we see in sickness, the functioning of the brain might change the personality, it is assumed by Christians that, with proper brain functioning, the personality would return to “normal” for that person. I saw this in two of my children, whose personalities were extremely affected by their food allergies. Erase the allergies, and suddenly who they are, who we all remembered them being, comes back into focus. The idea is that there is something intangible at the core of each person which, though it grows and matures, consistently is.

    However, if we remove the existence of the soul/spirit from the conversation, man become an organism, a body ran by a brain and programmed by its DNA. Because of this, the author spends a lot of time in Chapter 3 tracing the thinking pathways {within the brain} of extroverts and introverts. She also spends some time discussing genes, focusing specifically on a gene called D4DR, which has been called “the novelty-seeking gene.”

    On the one hand, I find all of this fascinating. The intricacies of the body are amazing, utterly astounding.

    However, comma.

    Whenever we start talking DNA, there is typically a wandering away from the Ideal Type. If you are merely a product of your genes, then your genes, through the means of evolution, are dictating your behavior, and there is almost an evolutionary responsibility to follow the directions they give you. Whenever we erase the soul, we erase personal responsibility, morality, and cultural ideals.

    So, to boil all of this down: this book may have began by defining introversion as merely an issue of energy. However, the term has now been equivocated upon. Using questionnaires based on the simple, energy-based definition, the brains of introverts and extroverts were studied, and found to be different. Once that happened, introversion was redefined as being one end of an energy continuum as well as having a brain which behaves in a certain way, because, for all practical purposes, within this way of thinking the brain is the person, the seat of the body’s humanity.

    We could almost write a syllogism:

    1. The brain is the person.
    2. Introverted brains behave in a certain manner.
    3. Therefore, an introvert can be defined in terms of brain behavior.

    Was that quite right? I’m not sure.


    So Rahime identified the equivocation. In the Christian way of thinking, this is unjustified, regardless of interesting factors concerning brains {which may tell us something about many introverts, to be sure}. In Jung’s way of thinking, the science is simply expanding the definition. Some expansions {like shyness} are unjustified based on the scientific studies, and others {like not processing thoughts aloud} are justified based on the scientific studies.

    Different Types of Introverts

    The author explains that it is a bit more complicated than getting a single picture of the brain. She says that maybe you are introverted, but some of this stuff just doesn’t sound like you. The solution? Well…maybe you are a different sort of introvert. The author gives a list of characteristics which distinguish a right-brained person from a left-brained person. However, I don’t think her list is specific to introverts. I found myself wishing she had a right-brained-introvert-specific list of characteristics. She did mention that left-brained introverts will feel more comfortable speaking in public than a right-brained introvert.

    Another topic covered in this chapter is response to emergencies. Dr. Laney claims that extroverts are more likely to spring into action in an emergency, while introverts are more likely to freeze up. Before that seems wimpy to you, I might add that this is because they are thinking about how best to deal with the situation.

    I found this striking, because I have heard of this being called a difference of the sexes. Andrew Pudewa gave a lecture on sex differences in education based on a book by Dr. Leonard Sax called Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. I distinctly remember him saying that, in an emergency, females tend to freeze up while males tend to action. So when Dr. Laney gives anecdotal evidence of herself and her husband responding to a car accident, I wonder where their introversion and extroversion leaves off and their sex differences begin. As far as I could tell, these studies on introversion and extroversion did not attempt to isolate the ‘verts from other factors such as age, sex, diet, or health, all of which can have huge impacts on brain function.

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Rahime January 28, 2010 at 6:47 am


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