The Extrovert Ideal

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Do you continually need alone time after social gatherings? Do you prefer one-on-one conversations? Do you tend to think carefully before you speak? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may be considered an introvert. But, what exactly is an introvert, you might ask?

According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingan introvert is one who is “drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling” (10). This conflicts with the other side of the spectrum, extroverts, who are drawn to “the external life of people and activities” (10).

While these definitions help in qualifying introverts and extroverts, how does one determine where he/she falls on the introvert-extrovert spectrum? Well, a good tool for introversion/extroversion self-discovery is this informal, short Introvert/Extrovert quiz on Susan Cain’s website.

Now, what does this all mean? Well, it means that the United States is split in its population between introverts and extroverts. In fact,  about one third to one half of America’s population is considered introverted. Because introverts and extroverts are so different in how they interact with people, it is very easy for conflict and inequality to arise.

A study by Molly Owens, MA and her colleagues shows that, generally, extroverts have a higher average yearly income than introverts.

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The four letters (ex: ISFJ) indicate a Meyer’s-Briggs personality type spectrum, where I/E= introvert/extrovert, N/S= Intuition/Sensing, F/T= Feeling/Thinking, and P/J= Perceiving/Judging.

Based on this graph, people with personality types that are introverted (IXXX) generally earn less than people with personality types that are extroverted (EXXX).

Why is there an income gap between introverts and extroverts? This may be a result of American culture. In American society, we value extroverts as preferable (which kind of makes sense, since the majority of the US population is extroverted). Dubbed the “Extrovert Ideal,” Susan Cain describes American society as dominated by “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” Cain continues her point by saying that “Western societies have always favored the man of action over the man of contemplation.” You may have noticed the effects of the Extrovert Ideal, especially in situations involving group work; generally, people tend to be drawn toward and listen to others who are convivial, talkative, and charismatic.

So, it makes sense to think that employees who are talkative and seemingly more active are noticed more by their employers and thus earn more money. However, just because someone says an idea louder or to a larger audience doesn’t mean that it is a better idea than one that is spoken softer or to a few people.

One short-term way that introverts could be noticed more/voice their opinions (and maybe result in higher pay) would be if they acted like pseudo-extroverts. Introverts can find a short-term solution by merely pretending to be an extrovert for short periods of time. Now, one obvious downside to this method is that it can be extremely tiring for introverts. However, if introverts allow themselves to retreat to  a “restorative niche” (a place where an introvert can unwind and be himself), they can avoid completely burning themselves out.

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While pretending to be a pseudo-extrovert can be a great short-term strategy, introverts can easily become exhausted if they have to conform to the Extrovert Ideal every day. So, Susan Cain proposes a departure from  “‘The New Groupthink’ – the idea that creativity and productivity emerge from a necessarily gregarious place” that plagues everyday workspaces to move toward a work environment “more conducive to deep thought and solo reflection.” If workplaces shift away from brainstorming and more toward generating ideas in solitude (because solitude is an underrated ingredient for creativity), then introverts will be allowed a greater chance to voice their opinions (after thinking about them in great detail, of course).

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Susan Cain regularly posts tweets aimed at how to parent introverted children.

Basically, Susan Cain is on a mission to bring awareness of the differences between introverts and introverts, argue that America undervalues introverts (“The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness“), and propose a shift to a society that values the strengths of both extroverts and introverts and allows them to cooperate to accomplish synergy. She explains her mission in great detail in her TED talk, which can be found below.

Cain’s mission is an important one because it could help remedy the inequality between introverts and extroverts in school systems, in the workplace, and in parenting. If a society tailored for both introverts and extroverts were to be implemented in America, the inequality between introverts and extroverts would shrink and the cooperation between both would be able to increase exponentially.

[Below is a podcast recorded by me explaining how introverts and extroverts are perceived in a classroom setting along with a narrative of my own experience as an introvert surrounded by a family of extroverts.]

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