Why a sane society needs introverts

Having mentioned Chris Brand’s interesting book ‘The g Factor’ I think I’d better share one of its small gems of knowledge:

Hans Eysenck had long presumed quiet and serious ‘introverts’ to be likely to do relatively well at laboratory tasks requiring vigilance, attention, persistence and memory. In fact, it emerged that, by and large, it was fun-loving ‘extroverts’ who were better at coming to terms with the novel (and often trivial) tasks of the experimental psychologist’s laboratory: they tended to score better in the short term. Introverts did better chiefly if testing was extended over several days and required long term memory storage and recall (see Matthews, 1993; Brand, 1994b). Apparently, extroverts can free attentional resources for rapid performance in the task at hand by the expedient of not engaging in so much long-term storage of what is going on. They can be said to process what is going on less deeply than introverts. The latter analyse input more fully (for meaning, not just for sound or spelling) and link it more widely to what is already stored in memory. It is as if the introvert provides a more ‘powerful’, memory-establishing treatment of incoming happenings and stimuli; but this extra processing means that the immediately required reaction to the experimenter’s problem-stimulus takes longer to arrange. (30) As with other mental ability distinctions having little relation to g , it must be stressed that both ‘extroverted’ and ‘introverted’ strategies (or styles) have their own special advantages; and that higher levels of g will improve people’s performances at both short-term and long-term memory for meaningful material.

As an introvert, I have to say there seems to be a lot of truth in that. In social situations I often come out as awkward and it takes me longer to learn to do new things well (though I’d like to think in time I tend to get better than the average). So it makes sense that this might be because I tend to take (or I’m ‘wired’ to take) more things into consideration than extroverts and in practice this tends to make the learning process and interaction with other people more complicated. Hence the observed awkwardness and slow learning but eventual excellence (in some areas at least.. actually, quite sadly not in that many areas!).

Still, the society at large tends to favor extroverts. In public schools introverts are probably more often bullied for example which may hurt their future performance. And in many workplaces I suppose they tend to be promoted less often than extroverts because they aren’t that sociable. I do suspect that discriminating against the introverts less would be good for the overall society as decision making processes in many organizations should benefit from the advantages that the introverts have.

I might add that I think that because at the genetic level genes for extroversion and introversion are in competition, it seems the extroverts have evolved tendencies to use dirty tactics such as bullying to counter the advantages the introverts would otherwise have if their development would not be hindered due to bullying. As long as there are no working solutions to bullying when both the introverts and the extroverts are in the same place in public school like environments, it might be worth experimenting whether the outcome is better if they are segregated into different schools. Though I expect some resistance from the extroverts who benefit from the current situation.

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