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.
*edit, 5 jan 2015: spelling mistake: serotine=serotonin, noradreline=noradrenaline*
Ok 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!
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]
June 18, 2013 at 15:01
This is AMAZING! Best blog post I’ve read in a while! Thank you so much for sharing xxx
Magical Day Dream
June 18, 2013 at 22:16
That’s a great compliment, thanks :)
June 18, 2013 at 17:07
Wow, this is really helpful and detailed. I know I’m definitely an introvert as I feel sometimes I have to rest by myself if I’ve been around a lot of people but I didn’t know all this technical stuff, thank you so much for sharing
Magical Day Dream
June 18, 2013 at 22:17
Me neither, well, until recently. And I figured that if I enjoyed knowing these facts than for sure others would too :)
May 21, 2015 at 18:04
As an introvert and a mental health counselor this is fantastic information! Do you know where I might be able to find the studies about the brain chemical differences? I want to do a presentation at work about them, and need the original sources for the doctors :-) Thank you SO much for your blog and articles!!
May 21, 2015 at 18:09
Oops, I just read down the comments and see that you already answered this further down – sorry to repeat – feel free to delete the question!!
May 30, 2015 at 09:28
No worries, hope it helped! :) Good luck with your presentation!
June 18, 2013 at 19:38
This is so easy to follow and understand!
Thank you so much!
Magical Day Dream
June 18, 2013 at 22:18
Yay! That’s good to hear. Wasn’t sure if I made it clear enough; but tried my best to make it as simple (and fun) as possible
floating thru fields
June 18, 2013 at 23:08
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 :)
Magical Day Dream
June 19, 2013 at 08:15
That sounds fun. I have been contemplating about that before; perhaps I should give it a try :)
June 19, 2013 at 01:11
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:)
Magical Day Dream
June 19, 2013 at 08:18
Me too. But according to this that might just be because the adrenaline your body makes increases the dopamine to such a level that it becomes overstimulating.
Laura Beth @ Perched on a Whim
June 19, 2013 at 13:46
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.
Magical Day Dream
June 19, 2013 at 14:35
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 :)
June 19, 2013 at 19:34
:) 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
Magical Day Dream
June 19, 2013 at 21:13
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 ;)
July 3, 2013 at 15:11
I see. interesting!!
June 19, 2013 at 23:51
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!
Magical Day Dream
June 21, 2013 at 17:29
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)
June 20, 2013 at 03:58
I love this! The sketches/drawings, the topic, the words written… Great post! :) Now I understand extroverts and introverts more. Thanks!
Magical Day Dream
June 21, 2013 at 17:30
You’re welcome, I am glad it helped!
Boye By Red
June 21, 2013 at 16:12
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.
Magical Day Dream
June 21, 2013 at 17:45
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).
June 23, 2013 at 03:23
I really love how you used your illustration to explain this! Fantastic!
Magical Day Dream
July 1, 2013 at 10:34
July 5, 2013 at 20:23
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!
August 5, 2013 at 01:54
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.
August 7, 2013 at 11:22
That sounds like such an interesting study. I studied industrial design but i’m just generally interested in a large variety of subjects ;)
August 21, 2013 at 22:38
Loved your explanation, good job!
Dr Jan Hart
December 8, 2013 at 22:59
What reliable resources did you use other than “The introvert advantage”?
December 15, 2013 at 14:37
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.
March 10, 2014 at 20:10
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May 2, 2014 at 21:07
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May 13, 2014 at 21:44
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 ….
May 30, 2014 at 19:18
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June 1, 2014 at 04:58
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”.
June 2, 2014 at 08:54
I’m happy to hear that! I also like visuals a lot when trying to grasp a concept :)
June 1, 2014 at 08:41
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.
June 2, 2014 at 08:56
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 ;)
June 1, 2014 at 18:52
Found this through Zite.
I’m so glad it was brought to this blog. Thank you for writing this!
June 2, 2014 at 08:57
Thanks for letting me know! I was wondering were the sudden peak in visitors came from ;)
June 3, 2014 at 02:42
Fantastic post! Thank you.
September 10, 2014 at 14:32
Thanks for the beautiful illustrating awareness! Nothing is better than a right self-consciousness.
Now I know the ultimate cheat sheet of being an introvert. :D
December 29, 2014 at 17:47
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.” :/
January 3, 2015 at 23:21
You’re right about the spelling mistake in there. I just added some text to correct it.
January 16, 2015 at 00:03
This actually helped me better understand the nervous system for my anatomy class. Thanks!
February 26, 2015 at 08:48
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March 25, 2015 at 18:06
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April 3, 2015 at 10:57
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 guess..lol)?
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 :)
April 8, 2015 at 02:22
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 ;)
May 24, 2015 at 17:52
This helped me in gathering info. about introversion for my speech! I love your drawings! They help a lot. :)
September 1, 2015 at 10:30
Thanks so much for this! Amazing to see introverts are actually wired differently, and this can be shown by research. Thus, what we feel is not figment of our imagination, or a result of not trying hard enough.. It would be so great if there were more places to go to especially suited for introvert. In the same way that lots of places are suited for the needs of extroverts (lots of loud music, tv screens with energy demanding visuals, large gatherings of people, having lunch with the entire team, introduction weeks at school where there is hardly time to reflect or be by yourself) In serving the needs of introverts I’d loveto see E.g. quiet corners to recharge energy at work, or quiet zones at crowded places like train stations. How about turning off the ever present tv or radio in restaurants or cafes? This can go as far as being aware of how table settings are done at a meeting with friends or familiy.. A big circle (where you absorb impressions about everyone) can be really tiring for an introvert. But if there are possibilities to sit and talk one-on-one or with smaller groups, being with a ‘group’ suddenly becomes less energy consuming… Do you guys also experiecne being with a group is less tiring with a bit of alcohol? Maybe it makes us a little less sensitive to stimuli? Would love to hear your tips and tricks of dealing with your introverted side when there is no opportunity to go home and chill. How do you preserve your energy? I’ve done silly things like sometimes retreating to the toilet, and just sit there for a little while. Putting on music (and thereby locking out all other noise) helps too. It also helps to write down your thoughts when your head gets crowded with impressions, feelings and thoughts.. I can also reccomend Susan Cain’s book – Quiet. Great stuff!
September 3, 2015 at 09:02
In the Netherlands we already have silence carts (‘Stilte Coupe’)in the train actually. But it’s a shame that often people are still quite rude and just talk or make a lot of noise anyway. I like your table setting ideas. It’s true. Often at birthdays we will have this and I think it’s called ‘the circle of death’ by outsiders because it’s just so awkward and tiring. I much rather spend some time talking to someone one on one and feel less conscious about it as well. When there’s really no hiding place I often make sure that I am recharged before going there at least. So instead of working insanely hard all day and then going straight to the party, I make sure I sleep well, end a bit early and take a moment to recharge before I go out again. Or sometimes I just hang out with smokers outside of a party. Usually there are a couple of people there because smoking is banned inside in almost all places, and then I can have a quiet conversation. I still need to read Susan cain’s book. It has been on my list ever since I saw her TED-talk
October 5, 2015 at 17:39
Hello Mariëlle! Thanks for sharing! I love it! Wonderful work!
May I translate this post into Russian and publish in special issue about introverts?
with all links on you
I also want to share with you one of my work about personality types)))
October 6, 2015 at 14:45
Thanks. It’s ok if you reference to my post in your own words, use one direct quote and one image if you link back to my post. But I rather not have you literally translate and copy the whole thing, since I spent a lot of time creating unique and valuable content.
October 14, 2015 at 08:46
OK! I’ll do as yo say)
November 29, 2015 at 22:25
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January 25, 2016 at 22:45
is it an introvert thing to prefer to keep projects on the low until they are completely finished?… is it an introvert thing to love surprising others but hate to be surprised???
February 1, 2016 at 12:02
I wish I could tell you the answer to that but I don’t know :) Does it matter if it is an introvert thing or not?
February 9, 2016 at 09:16
Great site you have here but I was wanting to know
if yyou knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article?
I’d really like to bee a part of community where I can get suggestions from
other knowledgeable people that sharre the same interest.
If yoou have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!
February 10, 2016 at 13:43
I’m afraid I don’t.. So far I mainly know what I know on introversion from reading books. Good luck! (It does sound like a good community idea)
February 18, 2016 at 14:26
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January 12, 2018 at 16:57
I really loved this article. Is very well explained and made me understand so much about introversion and how the body is designed for it. Thanks a lot and keep up the great work!
March 18, 2018 at 22:02
Det må være noe galt med meg. – Introvert og elsker det.
July 15, 2018 at 02:18
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November 24, 2018 at 18:01
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