Are there differences between how introverts and extroverts think? Science says yes.
So what are the differences? It’s not necessarily what you may think. Contrary to popular assumptions, introverts are not necessarily shy – though studies have shown they tend to be deep thinkers. Many introverts enjoy the social aspects of life, yet simply tend to feel overwhelmed in large groups or when being sociable for extended periods of time. In fact, the brain activity of introverts and extroverts are slightly different in surprising ways.
As an introvert myself, I found the insights learned from associated studies of the brain to be both fascinating and illuminating.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND WHY INTROVERTS AND EXTROVERTS THINK DIFFERENTLY
A psychologist named Hans Eysenck conducted research in the 1960s and theorized that introverts have a higher level of what he called “arousal” and were more easily stimulated. His theory also pointed out that, generally speaking, introverts’ ability to process information per second is higher than extroverts.
Extroverts tend to require a higher level of external stimulation to feel awake and alive. So they have a greater sense of risk-taking, seeking out challenges and social situations to provide that stimulation.
On the other hand, introverts seek out solitary time in order to avoid over-stimulation from external sources. They prefer to spend time thinking about, pondering, and analyzing experiences.
Researchers conducted a study in 2005 which linked the difference in personalities and brain activity to dopamine neurotransmitters, where introverts and extroverts responded differently to this “pleasure and reward system” in the brain.
In 2012, another study discovered that introverts most often have larger and thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain linked to abstract thought processes and decision-making. Researchers learned that extroverts had less gray matter.
None of these studies indicate that introverts are smarter than extroverts. The difference is not linked to levels of intellect. Introverts merely respond differently to various situations and circumstances. They become more easily overwhelmed, and tend to spend more time thinking deeply about situations rather than getting out in the world and “doing.”
Introverts simply do not actively seek out the same level of external stimulation, preferring to be lost in their own thoughts.
Here’s an inspirational video to help calm your mind when your thoughts are leading to a feeling of being overwhelmed:
“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.” — Buddha
TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF DEEP-THINKING HABITS
While the deep-thinking habits of introverts can sound like a good thing, there are pros and cons associated with that. Here are some points for introverts to consider in order to find the greatest balance between the “thinking” and “doing” aspects of life:
Mind Your Thoughts
While spending so much time in your head, as an introvert, you may tend to think things “to death.” This can take a couple of paths: (1) If thoughts lean along negative lines, you want to be mindful of what thoughts you’re allowing to dominate your mind. Re-frame negative thoughts in positive ways. (2) You may think yourself in circles when you need to make a decision. If that’s the case, your thoughts may be getting in the way of moving forward in a productive way. Take a step back from analyzing every possible outcome and do a heart and gut check. In these cases, it can be best to let your intuition lead the way so that you actually move forward in a way that feels best (setting your conflicting thoughts aside).
Partner “Thinking” with “Doing”
Rather than spending time lost in thoughts while being sedentary, go for a walk or get in the habit of doing your best thinking while being active. Physical activity has a calming effect on the mind. It will help to manage any stress that comes along with circling thought patterns.
Meditation can be beneficial and calming so that you’re not lost in your thoughts so often. This is especially true when your thoughts are sending you in circles or adding stress to your life. Meditation will serve the need for solitary and relaxation time, while also centering you in a beneficial way.
Overall, tending to think deeply is an amazingly wonderful attribute. The tips above can help ensure all of that introverted deep-thinking is truly beneficial, rather than leading to any stress associated with “over-thinking.”