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Students, faculty discuss effect of college environment on introverts

<p>Photo Illustration | Introverts and extroverts take different approaches to social interaction, which is sometimes pronounced in college environments.</p>

Photo Illustration | Introverts and extroverts take different approaches to social interaction, which is sometimes pronounced in college environments.

Ever wonder why some people would rather spend Saturday night reading a book instead of going to a party?

Though introverts may not be the “life of the party,” Charity Wilkinson said they are not necessarily “shy.” Instead, they are contemplative and think a lot before speaking.

“[Introverts] may have hobbies like reading,” said Wilkinson, lead psychologist at Counseling, Alcohol & Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services at Rutgers. “They’re probably not the ones who are going to be wanting to go the big party.”

Whether a person is introverted or extroverted relates to how he or she responds to the college environment. An extrovert may thrive in a situation where an introvert would feel overwhelmed, said Lyra Stein, an instructor in the Department of Psychology.

Stein, an introvert herself, is cognizant of the fact that some students may have a lot to contribute, but their introversion may make them feel overwhelmed when it comes to speaking up in class.

To accommodate introverted students, Stein uses clickers, which allow students to think before answering questions. She also does not base students’ participation grades on how often they raise their hands in class.

“Even if I’m doing group work, I do keep in mind that some students do not like group work because they tend to become over-stimulated,” Stein said.

It is that overstimulation that differentiates an introvert from an extrovert.

“One common misconception is that introversion is shyness, and it’s actually not,” Stein said. “Introversion means that your threshold for overstimulation is lower than [that of] an extrovert.”

Extroverts have less activity in the frontal cortex, so they seek more outside stimulation.

Whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert represents a natural biological difference. Most research shows that introverts are born introverts, and extroverts are born extroverts.

When six- to eight-month-old babies are stimulated, those who show more “hand ticking” or increased movement tend to grow up to be introverted because that’s a sign they are being over-stimulated, Stein said. The babies who display less movement tend to become extroverted adults.

The United States and Western culture are generally biased toward extroverts, with Rutgers proving no different. Introverts tend to feel left out in such a social atmosphere.

“People think something is wrong with you if you always don’t want to go out and party,” Stein said.

In Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” she discusses “Extrovert Ideal,” or the “omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Societal admiration for extroverts can be traced back to the Greeks, Cain writes, “for whom oratory was an exalted skill.” The Romans also highly valued social life.

The college environment is “definitely way better” for extroverts, Michael Moroch said. 

Moroch, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the fact that he is an only child plays a part in his identifying as an introvert, and he needs to recharge after being around others.

Social life in college is very much centered on partying, and though it isn’t necessary, he said when a “huge majority” of the school is out on a Saturday night, an implicit pressure exists on pushing people to join the party.

Katherine Poliakoff, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, echoed the same sentiment, adding that a large part of the college environment involves greek life.

Poliakoff identifies as an extrovert because she likes giving and receiving attention and does not like being alone. She said the “extroverted environment” of college pulls introverts to get involved.

“The only way they’ll be able to fit in is if they become an extrovert,” she said.

Extroverts enjoy frequent communication, Wilkinson said, and feel the best when connecting with others. When it comes to career paths, jobs that put them in leadership roles may be a good fit.

Introversion is stigmatized in today’s society, Wilkinson said, pointing out articles that talk about shy children being prescribed the drug Prozac. Parents tend to “train” their kids out of shyness by scheduling play dates.

Play dates might be great for kids with actual social anxiety, which could make it difficult for kids to interact with others.

“They may fear being judged or evaluated, or that others will notice how nervous they are,” she said. “Or that they’re going to get sweaty — any number of things like that. They may fear that they are going to stutter.”

But as for “just plain introversion,” nothing is wrong with someone wanting to do things by themselves.

Neha Shah, an assistant professor in the Rutgers Business School, co-authored “The Downfall of Extroverts and the Rise of Neurotics: The Dynamic Process of Status Allocation in Task Groups” a paper on extroverts and neurotics published last year in the Academy of Management Journal.

The paper highlighted how personality might have an effect on status, Shah said, and was partially inspired by a previous paper on how people who experience a status gain over time tend to decrease in their individual performance.

Shah said extroverts might desire status because they want to “get ahead,” be seen as superior to others or attract social attention. These desires translate into behaviors like assertiveness, interpersonal dominance and talkativeness.

“So basically, folks who are extroverted, they bask in social attention. They tend to be more assertive. They tend to be more dominant, talkative,” she said. 

Others tend to view these behaviors as favorable and reward them with high status.

But that high status does not hold up for long. Over time, extroverts end up falling in status. She attributed this to society’s high expectations for extroverts. 

The assertive and dominant extroverts are expected to be self-aware and the contributors in society, but in the end this is not always true.

Shah said a career in sales is an appealing choice for extroverts because they feed off positive social interaction.

Stein said introverts do well in jobs that do not rely on self-promotion and allow the person to be left alone to work. These include technology-related jobs and research positions.

“Extroverts engage in more self-promotion, they’re more likely to get the promotion, the salary increase,” she said.

Introverts are at a disadvantage with networking, which Stein said could prevent them from getting the job they want and making connections.

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