Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Posted by nliakos on September 16, 2012

by Susan Cain (Crown 2012)

“Love is essential,” writes Susan Cain in the conclusion to this book about the strengths of introverts; “gregariousness is optional.” Cain, a self-professed introvert, has gathered together plenty of support for the concept that introversion is a good thing, despite our societal preference for extroversion. Introverts think more deeply, are more sensitive to the needs of others, are our writers and artists and scientists and inventors–in brief, where would we be without introverts? Yet many of this very large segment of any population (she speculates 1/3 to 1/2 of the population is introverted) feel compelled to disguise themselves as extroverts, despite the attendant difficulties (high stress levels, enormous fatigue, betrayal of one’s real self…), because they have internalized the message that this is the only way to be successful. It may work, but it doesn’t make them happy. Cain offers introverts plenty of advice on how to survive without selling out (for example: carve out “restorative niches” in your day where you can recharge your energy).  She discusses introverts in the workplace, in schools (where the fashion for groupwork has taken over) and in personal relationships. And she summarizes a lot of research that points to a biological basis for introversion (introverts actually tend to have thinner skin than extroverts do!).

Interestingly, hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli, impaired social skills (including misinterpretation of nonverbal signals), “nerdiness” and a passion for certain pursuits are all common (if not universal) in introverts, according to Cain, making introversion almost a synonym for Asperger’s syndrome. Cain never mentions the autism spectrum; but the book made me wonder whether Asperger’s might be an extreme form of introversion. Of course, Asperger’s may also be characterized by repetitive movements, difficulties in communication, lack of emotional affect and other features that your garden-variety introvert is not saddled with. Still, they have a lot in common, if what Cain says is true.

Cain believes that if introverts are passionate enough about something, they can certainly overcome their natural preferences for solitude and quiet and act the part of an extrovert well enough to achieve their goals.

You can hear Cain’s TED talk on the subject here.

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