When we think of introverts, we don’t generally think of special talents. Special talents are usually the realm of the extrovert.
If we’re going to be honest, being an introvert in an extrovert’s world has a number of crippling disadvantages. Life is spent trying to justify an explain away our inability to do things that the rest of the world seems to do without any difficulty.
But the truth is that introverts really do have some special talents. Here are a few:
1. Producing more saliva in the lemon juice test
It doesn’t immediately strike you as belonging to the category of special talents, but it certainly helps us understand introversion better. Introverts are more sensitive to stimuli than extroverts. That’s why social contact and exposure to stimuli such as noise are more mentally draining for an introvert.
The same part of your brain, the Reticular Activating System (RAS) controls both your response to social contact and how much saliva you produce. In the lemon juice test, introverts produced 50% more saliva than extroverts in response to a drop of lemon juice on the tongue.
2. Cruising on a different circuit
One of the special talents introverts have is a talent for getting their kicks in a different way to introverts. You know dopamine, that neurotransmitter that makes people energetic, enthusiastic and active, but which also can enslave them to drug addiction and destructive behavior?
Dopamine activates the sympathetic system. The sympathetic system excites us and gets us ready for action. Introverts, unlike the rest of the population, rely more on the acetylcholine-activated parasympathetic system. This is the alternate pleasure pathway. It works by relaxing our body and calming us down.
3. Having a heightened state of awareness
Introverts have higher base levels of arousal, i.e. levels of arousal at rest. Thus the level of stimulation that an extrovert needs to reach optimal arousal is far above that of the introvert, who reaches intolerable levels with far less stimulus. These differences can already be seen at 4 months old. An experiment in which a rattle was shaken at a baby repeatedly to see how long it would take for the baby to become distressed observed earlier reaction times in the introverted infants.
4. Being naturally more cautious
In 2012, a study conducted by Randy Bucker of Harvard University found that introverts exhibited larger, thicker grey matter in their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s connected to abstract thought and decision-making. Buckner suggested that this might be what’s responsible for the special talents introverts have of avoiding risk and taking their time over decisions.
5. Making use of past experiences and planning the future
Introverts have a higher blood flow to their frontal lobes, which indicates a greater amount of activity there than in extroverts. The frontal lobe controls ‘higher thinking’ and memory. Higher thinking consists of processes such as decision-making, predicting consequences, and comparison. The frontal lobe is also involved with retaining memories associated with emotions.
The thinking process of introverts is more complex and effort-consuming than the more immediate, in-the-present thought process of extroverts. It relies on the long-term memory and to predictions of future outcomes to come up with a response to any stimulus.
6. Having greater resistance to the seduction of risky behaviors
Extroverts are more motivated by rewards than introverts. For this reason, introverts are less susceptible to behaviors like gambling.
Indeed, in 2005, a study was conducted on this question. Researchers analysed responses from participants doing a gambling task using a brain scanner. The extroverts participating experienced a stronger response in the brain when they were successful. The areas involved in the brain, the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens, showed that surprise and reward are processed differently by introverts.
7. Being true friends to cats
A study showed that while dog owners were more likely to be extroverted, cat lovers are more prone to introversion. As far as cats are concerned, it’s very simple. From shared atmospheric preferences to similar habits, mannerisms, and responses, we get along with them and they get along with us. Enough said.
You might not view these things as special talents in the conventional sense, but there’s certainly something to be said for the special way in which introverts sense and make sense of the world around them. It protects them from gambling and risk-taking, makes them take time over their decisions, and makes them content with simple pleasures that hurt no one.
Did this article help you understand introversion better?
- BBC – The lemon juice test
- Magical Daydream – Great article explaining the introvert brain
- Fascinating discussion on Quora – What makes introverts introverted?
- Medical Daily – Comparing the introvert and extrovert brain
- Truity.com – The science behind extroversion and introversion