The chemical nature of introversion

Last updated Jul 30, 2022 | Managing Introverts

The chemical nature of introversion

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I’m often asked is introversion real or is it just an excuse made up by shy people. Taking aside the implied rudeness, the answer is YES, it is real and has a scientific background. I was also asked how does introversion affect personality?

If Leaders understand this and work with their entire team to support all team members (including the third to a half that are introverted), they can improve productivity and creativity, while decreasing staff turnover. It’s a low cost “win-win” as introverts are more satisfied, stay longer and contribute more to the firm.

How does introversion affect personality?

This was a great question recently asked on Activate Your Introvert.  My first thought was that introversion is an element of personality, rather than being something external that affects personality.

The main things most people consider about introversion are:

  1. Comfortable focusing on their inner thoughts and ideas, rather than what’s happening externally (that’s the intro and the vert).
  2. Tend to enjoy spending time with just one or two people, rather than large groups or crowds and get lose what I call “people energy”. This can mean they’re great at networking, but not in the same way as an extrovert.
  3. Tend to think to talk, rather than talk to think. This affects how people respond in meetings and explains how to improve meetings.

But Ian’s use of “affect” in the question makes me want to add something about drugs. No, not that sort of drug, the sort we all have in our body – neurotransmitters.

Introverts and Dopamine

Introverts tend to be more sensitive to dopamine, the feel-good chemical that our body naturally produces when stimulated. When dopamine is released, it allows people (introvert and extrovert) to become more talkative, alert and motivated to take risks and explore the environment. It will make you chat, socialise, it’s good for external rewards like climbing the social ladder or being chosen for high-profile projects at work.

Sensitivity means you’re likely to feel more tired, more quickly. Extroverts are less sensitive, so want more of it. But it also explains why everybody eventually gets tired of socialising. So, this could explain the “people energy”

In my household it’s quite common for me to get invited to a party with my (extroverted) partner. My first thought is to get excited, if I know the host well and internally sigh if not. On arrival I’ll enjoy partying (in whatever form that might take), but soon start to get tired. As I start to get tired my partner is normally just starting to rev up and really get into it. This can cause some “tensions”. It’s what I refer to as people energy and is largely to do with dopamine.

Introverts and Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is another neurotransmitter relevant to Introversion. We all have it in our bodies, but in simple terms it makes us feel good when we turn inward. Acetylcholine increases alertness and blood flow to the front of your brain. The Journal of Neuroscience found introverts had thicker grey matter in their prefrontal cortex, which is where abstract thought and decision-making are seen. So, this could explain the “think to talk” rather than the extrovert “talk to think”.

So as introversion is about our scientific makeup, maybe it does our personality.

What does this mean for leaders?

Accepting that introversion is real and how introverts and extroverts vary will allow leaders to manage their whole team, rather than (as typically happens) managing the firm for the benefits of the extroverts. Things this allows leaders to consider:

How do you lead people to get the most from all of them?

TLDR: The chemical nature of introversion

Introversion is a personality factor which is at least partly explained by biochemical make up. Neurotransmitters are chemicals we all have inside us. Two which are highly relevant to introversion and extroversion.

Dopamine helps us prepare for time with people and challenges. Introverts are more sensitive to it than extroverts, so get tired around people more quickly

Acetylcholine increases alertness and blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, where introverts have thicker grey matter. This is where abstract thought and decision-making are seen.

So introversion / extroversion is real. Introverts going to find some things harder than extroverts and be better at others. A good leader will help their whole team work on their joint strengths.

How do you lead people to get the most from all of them?

You may also like to read:

Or listen:

Gina Gardiner is well known for her leadership expertise and illuminates the way for enlightened leaders to create a more profitable & meaningful mission. Here’s our discussion on leadership and managing introverts.

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