Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingI first read about Quiet by Susan Cain on Diane’s blog, Bibliophile by the Sea and liked the look of it, so when the publishers emailed me the offer of a copy to review I was very pleased.

Quiet is well researched, clearly written and full of fascinating information. I knew before I read it that I’m an introvert and this book confirmed it. Of course there are varying degrees of introversion, just as there are of extroversion and Susan Cain goes into this in some detail. She includes personal details, case studies, and anecdotes from people she interviewed which means that this is more than a factual account. It’s a well balanced examination of the differences between introversion and extroversion.

I was intrigued in particular by the research done by Professor Kagan and his team at Harvard, where they studied 500 four-month old babies to discover if they could predict which babies were more likely to turn into introverts or extroverts. They  found that the ‘high-reactive’ babies, those who reacted most to stimuli, pumping their arms and legs, were the most likely to grow into quiet teenagers. The low-reactive babies were more likely to become relaxed and confident types. High and low reactivity tends to correspond with introversion and extroversion. It seems the more ‘sensitive’ you are the higher the degree of introversion you have.

Kagan hypothesised that infants born with an especially excitable amygdala would wiggle and howl when shown unfamiliar objects – and grow up to be children who were more likely to feel vigilant when meeting new people. And this is just what he found. In other words, the four-months old who thrashed their arms like punk rockers did so not because they were extroverts in the making, but because their little bodies reacted strongly – they were “high-reactive” – to new sights, sounds, and smells. The quiet infants were silent not because they were  future introverts – just the opposite – but because they had nervous systems that were unmoved by novelty. (page 102)

There are chapters on the ‘Extrovert Ideal’, on the effect of nature and nurture, the role of free will, on public speaking and the differences found in different cultures. I think it’s a helpful book for everyone to read to understand the different natures.

The final note in Quiet further defines the words ‘introvert’ and extrovert':

Introverts have these attributes in varying degrees: reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.

Extrovertsthe ‘man of action’ who is ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold and comfortable in the spotlight.

The ‘extrovert ideal’ can make introverts feel inadequate, as though being an introvert is something that you need to hide or apologise for – indeed Cain emphasises the pain that the bias against quietness causes and the guilt that can cause. I remember very well being told I needed to get my head out of a book, that I should be living life and not reading about it (not by my parents, who were both introverts themselves) – I was relieved to read these words:

Now that you’re an adult you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. … Or you’re told that you’re “in your head  too much”, a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers. (page 7)

I think Quiet is the ideal book to read for both introverts and extroverts. It’s one that made me think – and I like that.

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