The introvert brain explained

Why it’s OK to stay home reading a book or lock yourself in the bathroom at crowded parties.

Let’s make one thing very clear from the start: being an introvert or extrovert is determined by whether you get your energy from being alone or from being around people. Introversion is often mistaken for shyness, but has nothing to do with that. Shyness is about fear of being judged by others.

I am a huge introvert myself. And it took me some time and struggling before I understood that there is nothing wrong with that. Reading the book ‘The Introvert Advantage’ by Marti Olsen Laney helped me gain some insight in myself. The most interesting part to me was getting to know more about the biochemical story behind it all: it helped me understand and accept how my brain functions. It was almost a relief that there is a logical explanation for why I might rather sit in my room drawing on a Friday night than go to a karaoke bar with the wild party kids. I would like to share some insights today that helped me understand better who I am. In fact, I drew them out for you. All of these drawings are based on ‘The Introvert Advantage” and most of the texts are literal excerpts. Hopefully they will give you some insight in yourself as well: just carefully read through the pictures.
 photo Introvert_1geneticinheritance_zps98858512.jpg photo Introvert_2neurotransmittersexamples_zps94b6c819.jpg
*edit, 5 jan 2015: spelling mistake: serotine=serotonin, noradreline=noradrenaline*
 photo Introvert_3neurotransmittermessage_zps9014932c.jpg photo Introvert_4neurotransmitterdirectbloodflow_zpsdddae425.jpg photo Introvert_5brainonoff_zps83327162.jpg photo Introvert_6activatedsystem_zps7a557f13.jpgOk so far: we have neurotransmitters that follow certain pathways in our brain and activate certain systems. Here is where it gets interesting.

In a test, introverts and extroverts where asked to lie down and relax, while tiny doses of radioactivity were injected into their bloodstream. Then they were scanned to determine the most active part of the brain. They found two interesting things. First, introverts have more blood flow to their brains than extroverts. More blood flow indicates more internal stimulation. Second, introverts’ and extroverts’ blood travelled along different pathways. The introverts’ pathway is more complicated and focused internally. While the extroverts attended externally to what was happening in the lab, the introverts were attending to their internal thoughts and feelings.

Not only does introverts’ and extroverts’ blood travel on separate pathways, each pathway requires a different neurotransmitter. The pathway extroverts use is activated by dopamine, while the pathway introverts use is activated by acetylcholine.

Let’s move on, because there is more!

 photo Introvert_7longerintrovertacetylcholinepathwaycopy_zpsf73da383.jpg photo Introvert_8shorterextrovertdopaminepathwaycopy_zps72609068.jpg photo Introvert_9sensitivitytodopamine_zps33d33aa2.jpg photo Introvert_10levelofdopamine_zps508d874b.jpg photo Introvert_11actvitydopamine_zps7b9850b7.jpg photo Introvert_12parasympaheticsystem_zpseb7a2579.jpg
While extroverts are linked with the dopamine/adrenaline, energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system, introverts are connected with the acetylcholine, energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system.

And that my friend, is the reason why you might occasionally need a break from being around stimulating environments with loads of people. It is why it is OK to sit home alone and eat cookies.

Ever since I understand these biological principles my body seems to live by, I find it easier to recognise my introvert boundaries. I skip a party here or there more easily without feeling guilty or boring. I feel more loving towards this part of who I am, instead of trying to constantly live up to the image of an outgoing person.

If you are an introvert, I hope this helped. The world can be confusing and extroverts don’t always get us, but I do. It’s OK to be quiet. And think a lot. And get tired easily from group activities.

What do you think, should I draw more of these? If so, what would you like to see explained?

Also, if you enjoyed this post, perhaps you want to consider liking my Facebook page to enjoy future updates!


[Disclosure: since October 23, 2014 this post contains an Amazon affiliate link]

50 thoughts on “The introvert brain explained

  1. floating thru fields

    I love your little illustrations I think my favorite is the introvert/extrovert dopamine levels (more,more,more vs enough)
    I think it would be cool if you illustrated different things that happened to you :)

  2. Monica

    I really LOVE your sketches – it helped me follow the post. In fact – I think I need little drawings added to many aspects of my life! This really is such fascinating info. I honestly sometimes get really tired around loud noisy gatherings. I think I need to pick up this book! Great post:)

  3. Laura Beth @ Perched on a Whim

    Three cheers and a high five for using illustration as expression! I wish that Blogger and WordPress could sync up, because I want to reblog this. Do you know if there is any way? Otherwise, I will just include a link directing my readers here. Such an introspective and entertaining post. Brings solidarity to introverts and helps those who are extro see outside of themselves.

    1. Magical Day Dream

      I did a bit of Googeling; but found nothing that was helpful. I don’t know if there is a way to do so. Wish I could be of more help :) But thank you: And I think your’re right. A lot of misunderstanding comes from not getting these basic differences. Once you do, it is a lot easier to see why you and others behave the way they do :)

  4. double crochets

    :) I love this post! you should definitely do more of these! You could explain next, something that has to do with your subject of studies, or with Netherlands! maybe that thing with Dutch sea? that is above the level of the street? hehehe donno! Or maybe something about why blogging?

    anyways, I haven’t figure out if I personally am an introvert or an extrovert, because I enjoy being with others, meet and talk to people, but I also spend a huge amount of time focus on myself and regaining energy by being alone. Is there anything in between? hahaha

    kiss kiss

    1. Magical Day Dream

      Haha the water level is a funny one. You have some good ideas, will think about it :)

      Of course you can be more in the middle :) In the book there is a test to find out if you don’t know and they make 3 groups (intro, extra, middle), also a middle one. Perhaps I should draw that one out too. But for me, I know it is very clear 😉

  5. Crissy Candypow

    I feel like I’m both. But only one for a few months at a time then suddenly it changes. It’s hard to explain to others that I just don’t have the energy to hang out. Sounds kind of mean that way. xD

    I’ll love to see more drawings like these!

    1. Magical Day Dream

      I’ve learned to become more honest with my feelings if I really don’t have the energy/don’t want to. There are more people who understand than you might think (usually also people who feel bad about the exact same thing)

  6. Anna

    I love this! The sketches/drawings, the topic, the words written… Great post! :) Now I understand extroverts and introverts more. Thanks!

  7. Boye By Red

    This must be my favourite blog posts of yours. It is funny, informative, beautiful and just wonderful.

    I have always been an extrovert. I can go into a room full of strangers and feel at home easily. However, i also love being on my own, reading, knitting, creating things, watching films. And so many times i would stay at home and not go out. I used to feel terribly guilty but now that i have read this, i think i’ll try and feel more at peace when i decide to stay on my own.

    What a great, breat post. Thank you.

    Have a lovely and creative weekend.

    Red xx

    1. Magical Day Dream

      Thanks, that is so good to hear! Isn’t it strange how much of us feel guilty for wanting to stay home? That’s exactly why I made this post: to make people more understanding and accepting of who they might be (or at least part of them). Even extroverts need time to wind down (the book goes into that as well).

  8. Miki

    OMG! I so need to read this book! I recently finished reading The Introvert’s Way by Sophia Dembling and enjoyed it a lot. I’ll definitely add this one to my to-read list ;); thank you!

  9. Ciera

    As an introvert studying neuroscience, this was FANTASTIC! You did a truly fabulous job and I’d love to see more posts like these in the future.

    1. magicaldaydream Post author

      If I had used any other sources, I would have mentioned them. Although my drawings are based upon scientific findings, I didn’t wish to approach this topic in a scientific way, but rather focused on creating something fun yet still understandable, making the information I gained from reading the book available to whoever wanted a ‘quick tour’ (yet selective one) through some interesting facts.

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  12. schrilax

    omg !! i am a monster… an abomination and i am loving it ^_^
    i knew i was different but different neural pathways and acetylcholine O_O woahhhh ….

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  16. Nando

    Fantastic post! I’ve long accepted the fact the I’m an introvert but worried when my 12 year old acts the same way. This is a great post to show her. Love your pictures to help the “visual learners”.

    1. magicaldaydream Post author

      I’m happy to hear that! I also like visuals a lot when trying to grasp a concept :)

  17. Murray

    The other interesting point from the book is that introverts process their data a lot slower than extroverts and often process it deeper. If 5 extroverts are in a group with you , you are often processing what the first extrovert said by the time the 5 th extrovert has had their say. We are marathon runners, not sprinters when it comes to data processing.

    1. magicaldaydream Post author

      Yes true. The book is filled with little information gems like that (I had a hard time narrowing it down to this one post). And personally also very recognisable 😉

    1. magicaldaydream Post author

      Thanks for letting me know! I was wondering were the sudden peak in visitors came from 😉

  18. A

    Serotonin, noradrenaline/norepinephrine

    Nifty sketching, but please correct the misspellings. Even if you didn’t mean for this to be a scientific article of sorts, advising readers to “just carefully read through the pictures” still warrants the same (hopefully-)high standard of accuracy your source offered, especially if you’re saying things like “In fact,” or “based on” or “literary excerpts.” :/

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  21. dadotheiceman

    This was really helpful and enlightening. :3
    Can you try and explain the person that is, roughly said, half an introvert, half an extrovert. Would that mean their level of acetylcholine and dopamine is about the same, and they use both pathways, sometimes one, sometimes the other (since they can’t really use both at the same time, I
    For example, one is 60% introvert and 40% extrovert. What does that mean in terms of acetylcholine and dopamine? (Even though I think I know, I’d really like to hear you out on that.)
    Thanks for your effort and time for answering my comment, no hurry :)

    1. magicaldaydream Post author

      Well, every person has both neurotransmitters, so it’s more a matter of dominance. Also, both pathways are travelled in every brain. You need all of your brain functions. I am no expert on this, but I would think being an ambivert would mean your level of neurotransmitters are more balanced as well, in stead of having one dominant one. Also, I think it is possible to travel both pathways at the same time. I like to think of it as nerves: you can both see, feel your arm and move your leg at the same time. But again, I’m not an expert in this area 😉


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