I have been planning this rant for a while in my head, although it didn't always have this title. I was going to write something and call it "I have no personality, who cares, leave me alone!" because that was my honest assessment of myself and my preferences for interacting with others. I tend to care more about reading, and to a lesser extent watching, other people's stories and ideas than I do about having well-delineated personality of my own to share. I don't have a lot of fervent opinions or strong emotions, which I believe makes me pretty boring in conversation. This is not to say I don't think or feel things, but I am equivocal on most polarizing topics, and expressing that in public is not a good idea, because it is like saying I'm uninformed or apathetic, even though I don't really think I'm either of those things.
However, I happened to re-read some seminal internet discourse
on introversion last night, which I'm sure I read before, but completely forgot. It was totally unintentional; I was reading a recently-published article about a long-running longitudinal study and there was a sidebar link. My feelings and behavior very obviously land me in the category of introvert. It's been my result on every personal survey besides the first one I took, when I was 12 and pretty sure that to "want to be the life of the party" was far more desirable and therefore deserved my affirming response, whether or not it was in practice something I enjoyed. Anyway, this created an interesting situation, because I had just developed a pretty harsh view of myself as being extremely boring, but every negative trait to support this was also one associated with being an introvert. For example, I don't seem to have convictions? No, I don't, because I'm still having a nice time thinking over the issues, sorting out legitimate arguments, gathering and weighing evidence, and I see no reason to stop this midstream in order to give a proclamation.
As much as I want to be relieved and happily don the introvert label, I am still hesitant. There is a study
which finds that cerebral blood flow varies with personality type, but I suppose I like the idea that I can reform my own personality. If my blood going in an unconventional direction is more important, I don't feel like there is any room for me to make good decisions about my own behavior. Plus, as a regular reader of science journalism, I've been trained to shout "correlation is not causation!"
The ranting portion of this post is my wondering whether or not introversion is real. I cannot move beyond the idea that it is an extremely selfish way to be. It is by definition fascination with one's own inner life, which I believe implies less interest in the doings of others. Sitting at home with my books, music, and art supplies is doing basically nothing to improve the world. I suppose going out to drunken parties, or even sitting sober in a circle gabbing for hours isn't changing much either, but it seems like good training for such endeavors. One is supposed "speak out" for a cause or "be a good friend" when someone seems lonely. I think of a girl I know who can approach anyone with ease and actually demonstrate sincere interest in a stranger's wellbeing. I am sure her actions are very much appreciated, but if I admire them so much, why can't I do the same? Am I not being very selfish for thinking it's just my way to hang back and be silent, or not even be out in the first place? One must already have a very easy life to be able to spend time alone on a regular basis. How does the responsible introvert, one who really does want to help others, behave?
The unconscious assumption that extraversion is normal and right, especially in American culture, and especially for a female, doesn't make this figuring any easier. There is also the more blatant nagging one receives with when one doesn't want to join in the fun activities. These are the things that could change, but I don't think it's very likely, because it doesn't even seem like a problem to many. It's always taken on the level of personal experience, and problems relating seem to be with individuals rather than personality types in general. If everyone were introverted, I can imagine some important group negotiating never being accomplished, but I have more trouble imagining the shortcomings of a world of extraverts, even though I'm sure there would be many.
Fortunately, this is an issue that's kind of enjoyable for me to consider, because it is personal, but it also benefits from a scientific way of thinking. I feel a lot better just after writing this, if only because it was an opportunity to write paragraphs using correct capitalization. Replies are encouraged, even if they're not related to my reflections here.
a brief addition:
I think this is also an apt topic for a forum like this one because I have found that, not surprisingly, people who enjoy the camaraderie of an online message board tend to be relatively introverted. A few months ago, with no particular hypothesis in mind, I started a thread on another forum asking people to take an online Myers-Briggs Type Inventory and post the results. Almost every single one of us regulars tested as introverted, which is quite far from the estimated prevalence in the general population, where introverts are always in the minority, and sometimes outnumbered 3 to 1 (or more.)
The worst thing about being introverted is trying to make other people understand that you are happy to be that way and the idea of living in a social whirl is almost painful. I am glad you wrote this.