As a dancer, Emily Hou (10) is used to expressing herself in front of large audiences. Professing emotions through dance has always been easy for her, both at home and onstage. However, with each pirouette, Hou twirls between her performing persona and a shyer version of herself.
Hou is a self-proclaimed introvert. According to Myers-Briggs, an organization that produces personality tests designed to facilitate understanding human behavior, introverts are seen as “reflective” and “reserved,” and prefer to deal with ideas and memories internally. Introverts “prefer doing things alone or with one to two people, and take time to reflect so that [they] have a clear idea of what [they] will be doing when they decide to act.”
Hou feels that her introversion affects her onstage expressions, as well as her interactions with other dancers. In group conversations, for instance, Hou often does not choose to share personal thoughts.
“Once, when I was at a dance competition … we were in the hallway socializing and I realized that I felt really uncomfortable, while other people on my team were socializing really well,” Hou said. “I just wanted to leave.”
According to psychologist Marjorie Miller, Hou’s behavior is common — introverts are often “shy and quiet, and socially uncomfortable.”
In contrast, self-professed introvert Salman Sadakkadulla (10) finds it relatively easy to open up to others. According to him, the introverted stereotype of being antisocial does not accurately reflect the personalities of introverted people.
“I talk to people all the time,” Sadakkadulla said. “I might be less introverted than other people, but I feel that being introverted and being unsocial are two different things. I do hang out with my friends, and I do like to be social … [but] I have times when I like to read a book alone or just hang out by myself.”
Introverts are fully capable of socializing well with others, according to Miller; in small, intimate groups, they can open up and display characteristics usually associated with extroverts.
“The key distinguishing thing to know is that introverts are just as interested in people, and they love just as deeply and they’re just as good friends,” Miller said. “They just require a retreat from people to get their energy back.”
According to Miller, introverts tend to be pathologized in our culture, which “places value on extroverted, charismatic people.”
Hou believes that introverts are often misunderstood by others. Unlike extroverted people, introverts can have a more difficult time opening up to strangers.
“Meeting new people is difficult,” Hou said. “It takes some time.”
According to psychology teacher Chas Doerrer, a negative view of introverts is connected to the high value employers place on extroverts, or people who are energized by social interactions.
“[In class], we do an article reading about what employers miss, as far as the traits of an introvert, because they look for extroverted traits [like multitasking and quick-thinking], but there are skills and traits that you don’t see,” Doerrer said. “I think the debate on who has better skills is interesting because the introvert [might be] the harder worker or have better knowledge that you don’t see during an interview.”
Sadakkadulla said that these more subtle, hidden qualities can be incredibly powerful.
“I don’t have to act for other people, I don’t have to show other people how I am,” Sadakkadulla said. “I have my reserved moments where I can think and ponder over something by myself.”
However, Sadakkadulla recognizes the possible disadvantages of introverted behavior, like keeping personal problems to oneself instead of talking about them with other people, because shutting others out and not letting them help with emotional struggles can lead to seclusion and antisocial feelings.
According to Miller, however, thinking deeply before solving problems or responding to complicated issues is a major advantage.
“An introvert will be really inclined to pause and think and grapple with complicated questions,” Miller said.
Hou appreciates her tendency to think through her thoughts and ideas before speaking.
“From my experiences with new environments, extroverts [seem to] be uncomfortable and deviate from their personality,” Hou said. “Introverts have that time period to adjust within ourselves.”
Despite the common idea that people are either highly introverted or extroverted, Sadakkadulla feels that qualities of both personality types are embedded in everyone.
“No one can truly be a pure introvert or a pure extrovert — there’s always a balance people have,” said Sadakkadulla. “If someone was a pure extrovert, they’d be shunned by society, [but] if anyone was purely an introvert, they’d [also] be shunned by society.”
Regardless of personality classification, students like Hou still find ways to dance around definitive stereotypes and balance the integrity of their individual identities.