Growing up, we were often asked to speak up to succeed, fiercely push ourselves to the forefront to be seen; warned that being shy and timid could leave us behind. No one wanted to be labelled a ‘wallflower’, stereotyped for standing quietly in corners and having less friends.
Now, with the 21st century’s advancement and Generation Z spearheading the clarion call for self-acceptance and self-love, although this long-misunderstood ‘introverted’ section of society have been increasingly finding its feet – it turns out there’s so much more to it. Behind the reserved veneer, introverts are now seen as having detail-oriented, analytical minds that are actually capable of understanding how people feel, think and behave in social contexts and situations – wait for it – more naturally than the extroverted brain.
The psychological perks of being a wallflower
Did you know that people generally work better individually than in groups? Or that the more individuals are present at an accident, the less likely people are to help a potential victim? Introverts, it turns out, most likely do.
Back in 2018, researchers Anton Gollwitzer and John A. Bargh at Yale University, USA, had tested almost a 1000 individuals on their ability to understand how people behave in social contexts – also called social psychological phenomena. They gave them a range of multiple-choice questions from different psychological textbooks and ran personality tests.
The results were clear – having introverted and melancholic characteristics showed higher accuracy at predicting how people behave in social contexts.
But, why does this happen?
Part of it, as the study’s co-author Gollwitzer reasons, could be how much introverts may watch or observe rather than participate. Sneha John, clinical child and adult psychologist at Dubai-based Camali clinic, said, “They are able to observe what’s happening in the environment much faster than when they speak about it or narrate.”
You have to think about that root word, ‘intro’ – a lot of it has to do with not only gaining energy by being by yourself, but also the ability to look inward. I think it is a big strength when it comes to introversion – is that kind of questioning, that innate curiosity that introverts have – that often drives them to have deeper conversations, and understand themselves and other people so much better.
“They have a strong sense of assessing people – because their circles are limited, they go deeper in their relationships, unlike extroversion. They tend to understand people, can predict their behaviour and their emotions. They are very quiet and observant about people,” added Arfa Banu Khan, clinical psychologist at Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Dubai.
Introverts could, also by introspecting about themselves, understand more about how other people think, feel and behave.
Bene Katabua, child and education psychologist at Intercare Health Centre, Abu Dhabi, explained: “You have to think about that root word, ‘intro’ – a lot of it has to do with not only gaining energy by being by yourself, but also the ability to look inward. I think it is a big strength when it comes to introversion – is that kind of questioning, that innate curiosity that introverts have – that often drives them to have deeper conversations, and understand themselves and other people so much better.”
Motivational bias: For me or not for me?
If you’ve ever seen someone leaning towards overestimating or overstating the results of a project, whether at school or the workplace, for personal benefit – know that this is an instance of motivational bias. Motivational bias is a thinking error, where your response is motivated by your idea of a reward or punishment, and involves more positive illusions about ourselves and the world.
Katabua explained that introverts are less likely to have these when biases when responding in a situation. “If you’re motivated by reward or punishment, you’re motivated to sound optimistic, sometimes exaggerated but that doesn’t seem to be the case with many introverts.
“Their responses tend to be more realistic and sometimes melancholic – where they also consider the worst case scenario, because they’re thinking about the situation from many different perspectives.”
By not having a self-serving bias, they are naturally more altruistic, sacrificial, do a lot of work for others without wanting anything in return. In relation to others, they might put less focus on themselves, on how it is for them and tend to be more selfless, so to speak.
This, the study discusses, may be one of the reasons why introverts are accurate in their observations and introspection, and can predict these social psychological phenomena better.
John said, “By not having a self-serving bias, they are naturally more altruistic, sacrificial, do a lot of work for others without wanting anything in return. In relation to others, they might put less focus on themselves, on how it is for them and tend to be more selfless, so to speak.”
A surprising element that adds to this effect is melancholy or sadness – which also spurs judgements made without self-protective or motivational biases.
“Melancholic introversion is a personality temperament (emotional disposition) that is detail oriented, analytical, sensitive, empathic, and a deep thinker and feeler. They often aim for perfection within themselves and their surroundings, which keeps them away from any motivational bias,” Dr Laila Mohamedien, specialist psychiatrist at Medcare Hospital, Sharjah told Gulf News.
They often aim for perfection within themselves and their surroundings, which keeps them away from any motivational bias.
Previous studies – for instance, one in 1991 by US-based researchers published in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Journal and another in 2011 on the performance benefits of depression published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Abnormal Psychology had explored how sadness encouraged people to act to reduce this state, often systematically reflecting and processing information about themselves. A result of examining and reflecting their own feelings could lead melancholic introverts to acquire a more accurate understanding of social psychological phenomena - the way individuals behave in social contexts.
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world”
History’s hall of fame includes many who identified themselves as introverts, such as Mahatma Gandhi (who said the above words), Albert Einstein, J.K Rowling and George Orwell. So, what does this new finding actually mean for us?
The study itself concludes that mastering social psychological principles may help us anticipate mass panics, political movements, societal and cultural changes – and that society could harness individuals for this. While this might not mean using statistics and science to predict the fall of the Galactic Empire as in Isaac Asimov’s landmark science fiction work – the Foundation trilogy, this could potentially prove useful in may be predicting mass consumer behaviour around business trends in the future.
Meanwhile, social psychological skills can also be beneficial in the workplace and educational institutions. Katabua said: “Introverts analyse, think about things, make keen observations about their workmates, bosses, and their work. The term quiet confidence comes to mind.”
According to Susan Cain, author of 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’, society is plagued by what she names the Extrovert Ideal, a belief in an ideal personality type, who is sociable and bold. This then results in a more marginalised and divisive society rather than an inclusive one.
Here are some quick tips and advice from experts on accepting yourself and playing to your strengths as an introvert:
1. Practise using your voices in safe spaces
“Speak up around your friends, speak up around your family – say something you’re thinking, that no one else has maybe noticed. It is then easier to take that to the classroom, and to the workplace,” advised Katabua.
2. Find a means of communication that suits you best
Introverts may prefer text and calls over writing. “If you ask them to write their feelings that may be best at that. Feel proud and celebrate the difference,” said Khan.
3. Leverage and develop your unique strengths
John advised, “It’s always best to look through the qualities rather than the personality type or label that society tends to give – if you are an active listener, for example, you can polish this further and can definitely use it for a wider team and for helping others.”