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873 of 907 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In defense of introversion (or how being an innie is cool), October 16, 2011
This review is from: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Hardcover)
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This is hardly an impartial review. As somebody who has been called at some point or another the gamut of terms associated with introversion, from "shy" (which I don't object) to "anti-social" (which I most certainly consider unfair), I found in Susan Cain's "Quiet," the validation and appreciation many introverts have been searching for.

In "Quiet," Ms. Cain explains the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the 1920s and how it is that today we associate talkative, risk-taking, and action-oriented people with intelligence, beauty, power and success. The Extrovert Ideal is so pervasive that influences our work performance, educational policies, political choices, and even the country's financial health. But the focus of "Quiet" is on exposing the myths and misunderstandings that were born when we as a culture embraced the Extrovert Ideal and turned introversion into a malady to be avoided.

To dispel the misconception that introversion is some kind of sickness or "weirdness", Ms. Cain traces both the biological and cultural basis for introversion and extroversion and their role as evolutionary survival strategies in animals and humans. She interviews scientists who have conducted hundreds of studies to test different theories in an effort to determine how much of our temperament is a result of genetics and/or of our free will.

The best part of "Quiet" is that the insights gleaned from these studies can help introverts take advantage of their special traits and thrive on their own terms in an extroverted world. Since introversion and extroversion are preferences for a certain level of outside stimulation, Ms. Cain advises introverts to find their "sweet spot" --or what scientists call the optimal level of arousal. Scientists also notice that introverts engage in "deliberate practice" or working alone so for those looking for a job, Ms. Cain encourages them to pay attention to the layout of working spaces to determine how much interruption they may have to deal with at work. For those still deciding on a career, the author reminds readers that research shows that introverts are not reward-seeking like extroverts, but rather motivated by the enjoyment they find in pursuing an activity; in other words, by being in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the "flow". Ms. Cain offers encouragement to introverts to venture in the extrovert world because we all have the ability to stretch our limits but the optimal way for introverts to do it is in the service of their "core projects," the things they are passionate about. And for those with children, the author dedicates an entire chapter for helping introvert children become confident and comfortable in extroverted environments and situations.

Amid the research and the advice, Ms. Cain calls the readers' attention to those introverts who have made a difference in the world like Rosa Parks and Ghandi. They showed that empathy, thoughtfulness, persistence, compassion, focus and conscientiousness, all characteristics ascribed to introversion, are leadership attributes too.

"Quiet" has not only given me a better understanding of introversion but also of the opposite trait. The same person, who labeled me as "anti-social" also boasted on how easily he could befriend people and in the same breath, complained about how my quietness and solitary pursuits would be hell for him. After reading Ms. Cain's book, now I realize why somebody who can make 100 friends would be so bothered by the one solitude-seeking friend in the group and why introverts and extroverts attract each other. And so, I think, introverts and extroverts will both benefit from reading "Quiet". But for those of us, innies who find joy in doing our own thing, prefer a book than join a party or think monastic silence is bliss, there is no longer any need to feel guilty or like we are oddballs because of our preferences. The message from "Quiet" is clear. Introversion has never been an aberration but a variant of the norm.
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Showing 1-10 of 37 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2013 10:42:27 AM PST
S. Nash says:
Such a thoughtful post!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2013 10:50:04 PM PST
Pippa Lee says:
Thank you, S. Nash. I learned a lot from this book.

Posted on Jun 3, 2013 5:19:49 PM PDT

Posted on Jun 28, 2013 11:03:13 AM PDT
There have been a number of books (including this one) which offer advice and operate on the premise that assert the following:

a) there are two very broad and fundamentally distinct types of personality -- the extrovert and the introvert;
b) these two types have a distinct set of characteristics and/or capabilities;
c) that, depending on which one YOU are, you will be STUCK with these type-related psychological characteristics and/or capabilities (and this because of genetic or hereditary reasons)

This conceptualization is needlessly self-limiting. Readers would be FAR BETTER OFF reading EITHER Carol Dweck's book on Self-Theories or the popular counterpart to that academic work -- MINDSETS -- or Albert Bandura's SELF-EFFICACY: THE EXERCISE OF CONTROL. Either (or both) of these books will entirely transform the way you think about yourself and your abilities to succeed in any domain of human activity. And neither book makes ANY REFERENCE to the introvert-extrovert dichotomy.

This psychological construct does no real operational work; it has zero functional value in assisting you in realizing your performance goals. It just gets you thinking, "Am I an introvert or an extrovert? If so, then, whatever advantages come with being one, I also am subject to certain FIXED disadvantages." This is just needless psychological taxonomization or categorization. And for what functional purpose? I'm an introvert, so _____? I am NOT entitled to think of myself as someone who can develop high competency in social situations socially?

The problem with these books is that, when you read them, you INTERNALIZE this construct -- i.e., INTROVERSION -- you begin to psychologically own the limitations that characterize the type. This is needlessly self-limiting. People are multi-dimensional beings: a person who is shy in one context may be outspoken in the context of her friends or family. Did she suddendly SHED her introverted SELF from one social context to the next? The problem with books like these is their simplistic explanatory constructs which can't cope with the data of human behavior. And the data suggests that, while people do exhibit certain behavioral tendencies -- which are NOT inviolable physical laws -- these aren't attributable to a fixed internal trait. To think so is agency-denying -- but to self-beliefs they have about their capacities to cope in diverse environments. These beliefs -- what Bandura calls "self-efficacy beliefs" -- are things about you which you can take positive steps to change.

There's no denying that there are proclivitiers are tendencies in one's behavior, but these tendencies don't have to be explained by reference to some FIXED TRAIT -- INTROVERTEDNESS -- which is immune to self-change and development. But that is exactly what books of this type lead you to do, to internalize the TYPE and then accept its profile of (celebrated) "Advantages" as well as its disadvantages. Here's the take-home: there's a different way to carve up this psychological space. Consider that it is much more likely to be the case that, in some areas you excel not because of some deep-lying mechanism -- introvertedness -- but because your current skill set has a HISTORY: And to date you have developed capacities in some domains, while in others you have not. So when you INTROSPECT about what you're capable of, or whether you feel confident about speaking at such-and-such conference, if you have little experiential mastery in the domain of public speaking, then OF COURSE you are going to feel a low degree of self-confidence (perceived self-efficacy) in this domain. Where your capacities are less well developed, your confidence is correspondingly lower.

In Bandura's book SELF-EFFICACY, you'll find a agent-friendly and self-empowering account of the concept of "perceived self-efficacy." A self-efficacy belief is a belief you have about your own capacities to produce successful performances in a SPECIFIC DOMAIN. But these self-beliefs aren't WRITTEN IN STONE. You can alter your perceived self-efficacy in "extroverted" domains (say, public speaking) by taking the necessary courses, getting the necessary practice and skills in this domain. What happens? You develop increased self-efficacy belief and discover that you weren't an "introvert" afterall.


In reply to an earlier post on Jun 28, 2013 7:52:27 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 1, 2013 9:06:31 PM PDT
D Sands says:
Michael, yours is a well written post, but ... someone could say, for example, he/she wants to be a concert pianist and practice long hours for years, but won't do very well. A poor teacher might say, "No! You can practice and do it!!!" Not so! The reason ... genes.

Someone could say, "I want to be more sensitive so I can be a famous artist (writer, actor, poet, musician, etc.)" It's just not going to happen. Why? Genes.

Someone with a below average IQ might work hard, but he/she'd be limited in their accomplishments.

I'll stop here because I'm sure you get my drift. Highly sensitive people are different ... genetically. Non-highly sensitive people, unless taught otherwise, will often put a negative spin on sensitivity or introversion or any other characteristic not fitting the "norm" of any given society.

Don't underestimate the power of genes. Maybe, with great effort, someone can try hard to change, but the changes would be a minimal at best.

Posted on Jul 1, 2013 12:12:33 PM PDT
PoloMan says:
Thank you for such an excellent post.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 9, 2013 5:24:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 9, 2013 7:30:43 PM PDT
Dear D Sands:

To anyone who would accept the introvert-extrovert dichotomy, I would say: By ALL means go ahead and internalize this self-limiting construct. That's your prerogative, of course. But consider that you may be over-estimating the influence of genetic factors to success. Consider this: genetic make up doesn't allow us to know on a case-by-case basis what a particular INDIVIDUAL is capable of. That genetic data under-determines these sorts of judgments, my friend. Epistemically, how am I (ever) in a position to know whether a given failed performance is the result of genes. By how much effort I willing to give to succeed?

Would Michael Jordan or Steve Nash say that being Numero Uno is easy, that they didn't have to work hard at it? From what I've learned about these Supers, they both attribute their success to extraordinary effort and training. Is that ALL? Of course not, but why do we say "of course?" Is it because we have conclusive proof in the form of prodigies that, if you really have talent, then you don't have to exert yourself to succeed? As Carol Dweck observes in her book SELF-THEORIES (OR MINDSETS) that is a view about abilities that many people have. Whether it is truth-yielding or, more to the point, has FUNCTIONAL or OPERATIONAL VALUE, is another question entirely.

Most athletic superstars and musical virtuosos acknowledge the necessity of dedicated training over long period of time. One of the conditions of success is the ability to self-regulate one's efforts in the service of one's selected aims. Are you prepared to say that this also is genetically predetermined?

"Self-belief may not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure."--Albert Bandura

Of course I'm not saying that EFFORT ALONE produces Mozarts or Saul Kripkes. There is such a thing as a PRODIGY. No question. But what EXACTLY are we supposed to conclude from this? What I am saying this: that the assumption or acknowledgement of genetic factors doesn't give the individual human agent a reason to self-impose some deteminate or specific limitation on his abilities IN ADVANCE or, even when he repeatedly runs up against obstacles. Subjectively, i.e., from the INSIDE, there is a differential of effort between two kinds of activities -- e.g., say doing math and playing the piano -- but that differential cannot be used a priori as an indicant to measure the kind of performance, since it is certainly possible that two performances by two different agents could be qualitatively equal, in terms of their evaluation, yet, from the subjective standpoint, differ in respect of how much effort the agent had to give to produce those performances.

Subjectively, that seems to be an unlikely route to gauging the direct influence between one's genetic endowment and any given performance. Read Bandura: The fact is that there are many diverse non-ability determinants which determine one's performances and it is not AT ALL an easy matter to MEASURE how much of one's performance is due to 'good genes'. THe problem is that, if you (or anyone) internalizes this message, then, in the event of a failed or substandard performance, you DIAGNOSE yourself as 'not good at math' or not good with people or with women or not good at the piano, etc.

The fact is, people derive COMFORT from the introvert-extrovert dichotomy because they SELF-IDENTIFY as "introvert." And why? Because it INSULATES them from having to TRY to be better in a given domain of activity; they can chalk up initial substandard performances to a pre-determined genetic endowment. End of discussion. But this is their choice, not a conclusion which science dictates evidentially. In Sartre's terms, in other words, it is a conclusion motivated by (something like) "bad faith."

Read The Talent Code. You'll learn that it takes about 10000 hours of GUIDED PRACTICE to become a musical virtuoso, or, more generally, an expert at most anything. Read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, to see how people who self-diagnosed as non-talents learned how to draw very well. The data is there, dude. But, by all means, internalize your self-limiting belief.

My argument is simple. And it is shared by two (internationally renown) Stanford Professors of Psychology -- Carol Dweck and Albert Bandura (and I say this since people want to cite science as the authority here): The fact is, even given the general case that there is some genetic contribution which "determines" abilities (in some causally hard-wired sense), there is, epistemically speaking, no certain way to deduce IN ADVANCE the level of performance a person is capable of, from this general scientific hypothesis. (This is the whole MORAL of the film Gattica.)

Subjectively, from the INSIDE, the ceiling is INVISIBLE; objectively, from the outside, the ceiling is also INVISIBLE -- unless and until science can link, in some very specific way, an individual person's genetic make-up and the production of a given performance (at a given level L) and show, in addition, that no performances can (given one's genes) possibly be produced at Level L+. But given the many environmental factors that contribute to performances (again, Bandura's work is highly illuminating here), this is not likely to be forthcoming. Ever.

So, the best, and most practically rational thing, to do -- the attitude which has the MOST functional value from the stand point of the acting agent -- is this: DO NOT impose pre-set limitations on your abilities, and when you run up against snags in pursuit of your goal, believe that your ability exceeds the demands of the task. (Without this belief, all the intellectual snags that I ran up against in the course of writing my 450-page dissertation, would have been construed as conclusive diagnostic PROOF that I didn't have "the right stuff (= genetic endowment). B.S.--I submitted my dissertation and it was approved on first submission (without revision). And I attribute much of this to the resiliency that I learned through internalizing Dweck's Self-Theories (or Mindsets) and Bandura's work (= Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control).

As Bandura documents, people who adopt this belief are also those who tend to produce superior successful performances. Why is that? Because this belief is a condition of psychological resiliency and resiliency is a condition of succeeding in climbing your chosen Everest.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 9, 2013 8:57:31 PM PDT
D Sands says:
Hi Michael,

My reply (I wish I had more time!):. Yes, it has to be decided on a case by case basis *and* with specific areas in mind. As I said, not everyone can become an outstanding musician despite decades of intense practice, but there are skills that can be improved greatly. How can one determine the degree to which someone can excel? Again, it has to be decided on a case by case basis.

If an introvert (by whose standards?) wishes to become an extrovert, he/she can practice socializing more, but the nature of the introvert isn't socializing which can be draining to them. The opposite holds true to an extrovert so living the life of an introvert would be very unpleasant -- as a rule, but rules have exceptions, as you know.

Although I admire your work, naming well-known names doesn't mean conclusive evidence. Theories come and go and research studies have to be replicated often over time, preferably via longitudinal studies, and across cultures. Given those variables are met, there are still factors (possibly still unknown) that would influence the results (I can think of *many*!)

The study of psychology and human behavior in general is still considered a "soft science". I had to refute my own thesis research findings much to the chagrin of the seasoned medical researchers on the hospital staff. The research is being used though and referenced in other research studies. Yet, it has too many holes in it to make it valid and reliable.

I do get your drift though. What you're saying is: No one knows their limitations until they try. I'll back that idea 100% ! :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 9, 2013 9:40:30 PM PDT
Well, if I got you to concede (or internalize) that much (your parting words), then I've done my job. (Lol) That was the take-home all along.--Best, Michael

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 9, 2013 9:42:04 PM PDT
D Sands says:
Michael, it's nice to end on a pleasant note. Nice corresponding with you. :)

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