The Real Science of Introversion (And the Rest of Personality)

December 7, 2015 in Blog


Introversion is one of the most misunderstood (yet most widely recognized and talked about) dimensions of human personality.

Does introversion mean you’re less social? Not necessarily. Does introversion mean you’re shy? Not necessarily. Does introversion mean you’re more emotionally sensitive? Not necessarily. Does introversion mean you’re a nicer, warmer person? Not necessarily. Does introversion mean you’re more reflective and creative? Not necessarily.

So what the heck does differentiate introversion from the rest of human personality?

Over the past year or so, I’ve had the great privilege of working with Susan Cain and the Quiet Revolution. Her team’s mission is to unlock the power of introverts and empower them to be themselves and change the world (quietly but boldly).

One branch of the Quiet Revolution is the Quiet Leadership Institute, whose mission is to enhance organizational performance through the understanding and empowerment of introverts. The Quiet Leadership Institute team (led by Mike Erwin, Jeff Bryan, Kate Earle, and Bill Montgomery) recently went to Holland and presented their work to the Royal Netherlands Air Force. They asked if it would be cool to come to my class at Penn and film me giving an impromptu lecture on the latest science of introversion to show to the Air Force during their symposium. Of course I said heck yes!!

Below is the lecture. As you can see, there are many things that many people commonly refer to as introversion which are actually a blend of introversion with another dimension of personality. However, there are some essential features of introversion, which are grounded in the latest neurochemistry and neuroscience of personality.

Here’s my crack at summarizing the latest science of introversion (and the rest of the human personality hierarchy). Let me know what you think in the comments section!


image credit: creativemarc / shutterstock

5 Responses to “The Real Science of Introversion (And the Rest of Personality)”

  1. Todd says:

    Excellent, very well done and extremely valuable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lecture this helpful on personality. Is there a transcript or a reference list for this?

  2. rita says:

    I found this very clear and lucid besides being absolutely cutting edge and exciting.

  3. Paolo says:

    As I said on FB, great talk.

    Todd, not a transcript, just my notes:

    Clarification about what introversion is by Scott Barry Kaufmann, mostly based on Colin DeYoung’s work:
    a) hierarchy re personality; above 5 traits, stability (how much do you like order) and plasticity (basically, **engagement** with the world, it embraces E and O) (see graph, also for aspects).
    b) E; engaging socially
    o: engaging intellectually
    C) stability aspect driven by serotonin;
    flexibility: mostly dopamine systems; it is not about pleasure, it is about excitement about the possibility of reward.
    d) E: social attention, social status, money, sexual opportunities, food (primal rewards); so introversion is a preference for quiet, for being reserved; but introversion does not say anything about a second dopamine pathway.
    e) but there is a second dopamine system and that is associated with the potential reward value of information
    f) imagination (default) network; it is active whenever attention is turned inward; related to O.

    Note: shyness comes from N, not E; also not liking people comes from A, not E; introverts simply do not assign a lot of values to social attention / status.