Introspection on Introversion

A recent person setback has had me thinking of introversion. The setback was due to my own introversion and not being one to palaver often. Although my particular temperament was not expressed in negative terms, for many, introversion is a deviation from the extroversion norm – it is seen as a a lack rather than a positive trait or even benefit. I learned this and more from the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I found this book extremely informative, and more importantly, cathartic in that I no longer see my introversion as a deficit but as a positive attribute, one that I can harness for my own success. Here are some of the random things I learned from Susan Cain’s book:

  • There are many forms of introversion because it runs along a continuum. To say someone is an introvert does not necessarily mean they will have all the traits of a classic introvert.
  • Ambiversion also exists.
  • Introverts can make good great leaders because of their ability to listen, carefully consider others’ ideas,  be reflective, and remain calm under great stress.
  • There is not a single cause of introversion.
  • Introverts are risk-averse, which may explain why they were some of the only people to benefit (ethically) from the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Open office plans are often detrimental not only to introverts but also to extroverts.
  • Likewise, group brainstorming is not effective and leads to extroversion dominance in a meeting.
  • The push for collaboration is one effect of the extroversion norm and can actually subvert creative processes. She gave the example of many engineers, typical introverts, who would come together to share ideas, but did their best work (the impetus for their sharing) on their own.
  • Teachers often force extroversion (“socialization”, “collaboration”, “group work”), sometimes to the detriment to the child. A student’s introversion is often cause for concern in a classroom. Teachers need to have more understanding of students’ particular temperaments.
  • Free trait theory can account for why some introverts seem like introverts. It basically explains that in the service of some passion or something they love, introverts can exhibit extrovert traits; they are like unintentional actors. She gave the example of Dr. Brian Little, an extreme introvert, though you wouldn’t know it from his many talks and conference presentations.

While reading this book, I thought of another book. First, I had trouble understanding exactly what type of introvert I am since I don’t have all the characteristics of an introvert (despite knowing I didn’t need to have all of them). I am shy, but introverts are not necessarily shy, so this confused me. I am quiet and reflective, but I also don’t need to be alone to recharge – I often seek out other people to be around, though I don’t want to be the center of attention and these are usually my person friends, not strangers, and not at parties. I am generally not gregarious, but while at conferences, I have been known to be rather talkative and have made many connections this way. However, free trait theory offered a really great explanation for this and made me understand this phenomenon better.

While reading the section on introversion and education, I couldn’t help think of one particular Chinese student of mine who seems to be quite introverted. While Chinese are generally considered to be introverts anyway (though this is not necessarily true), this particular student stood out. Quiet, sharp, sweet, and a great student to have in class, at first I thought it was my duty to encourage her to seek out friends, participate in events, and generally just get out of the house and explore on the weekend. I always expressed my surprise when she told me she didn’t do anything on the weekend, or that she didn’t attend any of the events I informed her of, or that she had not made any friendships with either other international students or other domestic students.

Part of me wanted to encourage her to “socialize” because I was under the impression that both language learning and studying abroad could not be successful without the social element. It turns out this perception may not be true. For example,  Kayaoğlu (2013) found that introverts use a wider variety of language learning strategies than extroverts. Chen, Jiang, and Mu (2015) found that neither introversion nor extroversion were correlated with oral proficiency in Chinese learners. In writing, introverts have been found to outperform extroverts (Boroujeni, Roohani, and Hasanimanesh, 2015). Another study (Baker-Smemoe, Dewey, Bown, and Martinsen, 2014) found that personality traits did not play a significant role in language gains while studying abroad. Instead, pre-study abroad proficiency, cultural sensitivity and social networks (L2 proficient friends, intensity of relationships, number of social groups) were greater predictors. Although it would seem introversion would negatively affect the social network factor, it’s important to remember that introversion does not mean antisocial, and that it is one among several strong factors. My research was cursory and superficial, but even that was enough to show that introversion in language learning is not to be seen as a problem.

What about study abroad and general success as an international student? The research on this was much harder to find. Constantine, Okazaki, and Utsey (2004) looked at strategies in dealing with depression due to acculturation and found that lower language proficiency was significantly correlated with depression but not social self-efficacy skills (initiating behavior in social situations), something that certainly seems linked to introversion and extroversion. Besides this research, anecdotal evidence from the fact that the sheer number of Asians, particularly Chinese students, who study abroad and graduate abroad, is indicative of introversion as not being a barrier. This is especially true if you fully believe Asians are introverted.

Returning to my Chinese student, part of me wanted to encourage her to be more social to be more successful. The other part of me saw my shy self in her personality, and I thought that if only someone had encouraged me to be more social, I could have become less introverted / learned Korean better / had more friends, etc. Of course, this was before I read “Quiet”. Now I recognize that motivation for what it was: personal insecurity and not understanding the needs and roles of myself and other introverts, my Chinese student included. These days, when I find she has not done anything special or that she did not attend some fun, city-wide event, I smile knowing that it’s OK.

For myself, I have a much better understanding of introversion and how it can both benefit and hinder me. Whereas I once felt there was perhaps no role for an introvert me in the extrovert-dominated world of higher education (if I wish to remain there), now I find both assertions untrue. There is a role, a good one, and academia may not be as dominated by introverts as I think. In general, this understanding can help me frame my past, current, and future experiences in a different light and helps me enjoy my temperament as an asset, and to further enjoy my pseudo-extroversion when the situation calls for it.

Further Reading


Baker‐Smemoe, W., Dewey, D. P., Bown, J., & Martinsen, R. A. (2014). Variables affecting L2 gains during study abroadForeign Language Annals47(3), 464-486.

Boroujeni, A. A. J., Roohani, A., & Hasanimanesh, A. (2015). The impact of extroversion and introversion personality types on EFL learners’ writing abilityTheory and Practice in Language Studies5(1), 212.

Chen, Y., Jiang, Y., & Mu, Z. (2015). A survey study: The correlation between introversion/extroversion and oral English learning outcomeJournal of Language Teaching and Research6(3), 581-587.

Constantine, M. G., Okazaki, S., & Utsey, S. O. (2004). Self-concealment, social self-efficacy, acculturative stress, and depression in African, Asian, and Latin American international college studentsAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry74(3), 230.

Kayaoğlu, M. N. (2013). Impact of extroversion and introversion on language-learning behaviorsSocial Behavior and Personality: an international journal41(5), 819-825.

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