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Our Personalities Influence Our Well-Being, Happiness, and Sense of Meaning in Life, Extrovert and Introvert Personality Differences

Summary:
Our personalities and the way we live our daily lives are shaped by our brain and endocrine functions (some inherited), by the society in which we live, and by our own goals and projects. Today psychologists group people with outward focusing characteristics as extroverts and people with inward focusing characteristics as introverts. Although an individual may usually display certain personality traits, when motivated by his/her goal or by love, he/she can act contrary to his/her usual character. Acting out of character has ramifications and necessitates a recovery period, which for the extrovert is a period of high stimulation and for the introvert is a quiet time. Talking and writing about what matters helps the individual focus and call forth the behaviour that will enhance his/her well-being. Understanding these facts can help us live more meaningful lives and can help us understand and help the children under our care.

Key words: personality, temperament, introvert, extrovert, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism (sensitivity and sensibility), openness, our society, motivation, stimulation, biogenic, brain, endocrine systems, autonomic system, dopamine, oxytocin, health, restoration, Dr. Brian R. Little, Susan Cain
Japanese

INSPIRATION - Dr. Brian R. Little, a man of small stature with receding brown hair, wearing round steel-framed glasses, took the podium to speak about "The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being". He used a voice that commanded attention while eyeing us with warmth that drew us to listen intently. His presentation matched the reviews of his former Harvard students who voted him the most effective teacher and said that he was "eloquent and garrulous, brimming with ebullience and energy" that he was "known as a raging extrovert." Yet he said he was an introvert. (1) I like to find out how things work, so his confession interested me because I too think of myself as an introvert. I prefer being with a few friends, like working alone, yet I can stand in front of an auditorium of a couple hundred people and talk about things that really matter to me. I brim with enthusiasm; ideas come in a flash, when I am teaching my students. I determined to learn more about our natural personalities in order to understand myself better and to affect my teaching of children as a volunteer at our library.

DIMENSIONS OF PERSONALITY - Jung (1923) was an early leader who saw human behaviour as patterns and attempted to understand and explain differences. Most people utilize elements of both introversion and extroversion in their daily lives, however there generally is a dominant personality trait that directs their daily lives. (2) (5) Currently there are several different ways to catalogue personality--our distinctive personal character. In this paper I use the five points studied in the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) developed by Sam Gosling, Jason Rentfrow, and William Swann: Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism (Sensitivity and Sensibility), Openness, and Extroversion. (1) (3) The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality types, based on Jung's teaching, is used by many universities and Fortune 100 companies. (1) (4) Researchers do not agree on the percent of individuals who fall in each category, but there are varying results published about the percentage of American adults who are introverts that range from 15% to 50%. Individuals whose traits fall mid-point on the scale are classified as ambiverts. (1) (5) This paper will focus on the introvert and extrovert traits which I believe are the most influential in directing our daily lives.

1. Extrovert and Introvert Characteristics - Genetics - There appear to be differences in the arousal levels in the neocortical areas of the brain which result in the temperament we are born with. Low levels of arousal are present in extroverts, and as a consequence they seek stimulation through adventure and by being around people in order to bring their arousal levels to the optimum. High levels of arousal are present in introverts hence they avoid high stimulation and are often thought to be anti-social. (1) (5) Our son is a very hyper active person, always has been. When he was four we visited an amusement park and he was taken by the whoopla and pictures describing the tunnel of horror and wanted to ride through the tunnel by himself. No, he didn't want his parents along. As he was lifted into the car on the track that would take him into the dark opening and out of sight of his parents, he appeared terrified. His brow was furrowed, his teeth clenched. He didn't look back when the car took off. We were waiting at the far end when the car brought him out of the dark tunnel into the sunlight. His face was beaming. He was very excited and begged to "do it again." He was going to be a daredevil and we braced ourselves for what he might do in future.

Learning environments & achievement - Extroverts focus on the outer world and tend to act quickly. Quantity is more important than taking the time to assure quality. They think things through while talking or during discussions. They want to socialize, work and learn well in groups, and they excel when there are visible results. However they have difficulty settling down to listen, read, or write. They have good short-term memories. They may focus best when they are asked to teach someone else or involve people in interaction. Introverts are energized by thought, reflection, memories and feelings. They enjoy listening, reading and writing rather than giving oral presentations. They are often uncomfortable in discussion groups, may hesitate to speak, and prefer to volunteer when ready rather than to be called upon and often feel "alone" in a group. They have difficulty remembering names though their long-term memory is better than that of an extrovert. They prefer to work independently and, on average, achieve higher marks in the lower grades and high school than extroverts who excel in kindergarten, even though the two groups have the same IQs. (1) (2) (5) Jane was my best friend when I was growing up. She had twinkling brown eyes, shiny brown hair, and her manner drew classmates and adults to her. Every boy must have had a crush on Jane. She tried to teach me to flirt so that I could be popular too, but I was not an apt pupil and gave my attention to school work and my jobs. In high school Jane was elected a cheerleader and at Ohio State University she was chosen the Home-Coming Queen. When I met her years later, she greeted me with a big hug, asked about my time in Japan, but we didn't exchange addresses. Eyes still turned when she walked into the room.

Social Interactions & Verbal Styles - Extroverts stand closer, speak more loudly, and tend to touch and hug. They approach a subject directly, whereas introverts avoid touching, speak softly, and answer with oblique responses. (1) A good example is the way I learned to express opinions while growing up in a small community. When asked what restaurant I preferred, I learned to answer something like this: "I've heard that the Italian restaurant is quite popular and that its menu is more varied than most."

Motivation - We are motivated by the way we appraise our environment. Extroverts see situations as positive opportunities, are risk takers, seek stimulation, and look for physical or emotional reward possibilities. They like the "buzz" (excitement) that accompanies reward expectation. Dopamine, a chemical, is released in response to this expectation. This neurotransmitter causes activity in the "reward system", the orbitofrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala. Extroverts appear to have more active dopamine pathways, and the medial orbitofrontal cortex is larger in extroverts than in introverts. Extroverts are often deemed to be smart, usually appear self-assured, exhibit good posture, talk with conviction, engage others with gestures and usually get the job or sell their program. They are successful in fields that involve social engagements. Heightened positive emotions can lead to violence and property damage unless the person employs his inhibitors to gain control. Introverts have a smaller response to pleasurable possibilities. They don't get excited as easily, are more likely to get rewarding satisfaction from doing something that interests them rather than from the results. They may be hypersensitive to possible dangers and busy, noisy environments. They are patient and are motivated by situations that involve quiet planning and deliberation such as the work of researchers, engineers, architects, artists, writers. (1) (2) (5) While our son, to my consternation, wandered here and there after school, our daughter came straight home and went to her room to engage in creative projects like writing a novel when she was ten, to carving a soapstone "thinker," to rearranging her book and display shelves. With a friend she played dress-up and dramatized situations.

Both extroverts and introverts are influenced by four other aspects of personality. (1) (5)

2. Conscientiousness - Individuals with this bend are "well organized, orderly, careful, prudent, circumspect and non-impulsive." Non-conscientious individuals are "disorganized, spontaneous, careless, impudent and impulsive." (1) We might say that a good life is predictable for those who are conscientious because studies show that they score high in the grading systems of colleges and universities; they impress potential employers, move up in rank, earn higher salaries, and live longer in good health than their counterparts. But consider the field of study or work. If the work calls for improvising, is fluid and inventive, the person with a low score in conscientiousness will flourish. Dr. Little gives the example of the musician who joins a band and is expected to improvise and write new scores. (1)

3. Agreeableness - Although agreeableness is often the first positive judgement made when people meet, over time that individual may seem like a people-pleaser without the backbone to do the right thing. Highly agreeable people have a high level of oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel good. The person who makes a point of being too agreeable may not be effective when working with staff and may not hold them accountable. This trait is not associated with success in an organization. Aggression is sometimes associated with disagreeable people and often these people fail to judge what is important in situations. The person who is disagreeable could do well as a bill collector. "Assertiveness and agreeableness involves a trade-off between the ease of relationships and goal achievement." (1)

4. Neuroticism: Sensing - Sensibility - Those with high scores in neuroticism have hypersensitivity in the amygdala, the brain structure that warns individuals of threats to their safety. They are more likely to view things as a danger or to imagine dangers, and notice troubled people more than those with lower levels. Daily stress results in overwork for the immune system and a risk of illness. In some instances this concentration on possible perils may have a positive influence. (1) The mother who insists on rechecking that the stove is turned off may prevent a fire.

5. Openness to Experience: Receptivity vs. Resistance - A person with a trait of openness is ready for new ideas, new acquaintances, new environments, and creative endeavours. They feel and express their emotions of delight, wonderment, and joy as well as anxiety, depression, and hostility. These individuals are likely to be enthusiastic and successful in work which calls for innovation. (1)

There you have it. To learn your likely strengths and avoid dangerous overreacting tendencies, you can take the TIPI test (3) or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) (4) or another test to find your base character.

Let's explore two more factors that influence our personality and our well-being.

PERSONALITY AND DAILY BEHAVIOUR ARE INFLUENCED BY THE SOCIETY IN WHICH THE PERSON LIVES. Cain writes that American society functions with the belief that the ideal personality is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight, but forgets "the people who think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems and spot canaries in your coal mine". (5) The introvert is often disillusioned, feels rejected because his/her contributions are rejected or unappreciated. It seems as though the core of their being is discounted. Caregivers sometimes push their children to become assertive when the actions demanded clash with the core of the introvert child's being. Conversely, in many Asian countries parents prefer that their children don't stand out. (1) When I taught in Japan, one girl who interrupted the teacher and clowned during class, was shunned by her fellow students who had been taught that this behaviour was disrespectful. In cultures that stress achievement, those who meet the criteria are rewarded and those who fail pay a cost. (1) The son whose father wants him to be an athletic star might be abused when he doesn't meet the father's criteria. The influence of culture is immense.

PERSONALITY AND DAILY BEHAVIOUR ARE INFLUENCED BY PERSONAL GOALS AND ASPIRATIONS AND BY LOVE. Being engaged in projects that matter lead us to act in ways counter to our natural personality responses. Dr. Little had a strong mission to teach about the road to well-being, and this goal enabled him to take on aspects of the extrovert to hold the attention of his audience. In my case the Second World War really affected me. Why do we have to kill each other when we don't agree or have different ways of living? I reasoned that if people from one country got to know people from another country, they would find ways to settle differences peacefully. Very naive, but that motivation enabled me to pack up to live in Japan when I was twenty-two and to live in China when I was sixty-nine even though I didn't know the languages and would live a very different lifestyle. Today I live in co-operative housing with people from every continent except Antarctica. We find a way to flourish in spite of our differences.

THERE ARE BENEFITS AND DANGERS WHEN WE STEP AWAY FROM OUR BIOGENIC AND TRADITIONAL WAYS OF ACTING. RESTORATION NEEDS MUST BE MET - The benefits of changing our personal style of acting is that we advance our project and we expand. However there are consequences for continually suppressing our biogenic traits and stable ways of acting. The autonomic nervous system is aroused and in the long term damages our health. In such cases, the body requires restoration. The extrovert, who has had to sit for hours reading and writing a paper, will need to go out to socialize. Coffee, a stimulant, will keep him focused while at work. The introvert will need quiet time away from people. Water would be that person's soothing drink. It has been shown that suppressing our usual ways of acting or suppressing something painful needs to be addressed. The person who suppresses something important that has happened or pretends to act in ways that are not within their character can release tension by talking and or writing about the suppressed issue. The arousal in the autonomic systems diminishes. (1)

TIPS FOR TEACHERS, PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS - Cain's suggestions are: 1. Treasure the child as he/she is. 2. Don't think of introversion as something to be cured. 3. Look for clues that tell you how to act in a situation. 4. Don't seat introverted kids in highly-interactive areas of the classroom. 5. Wait five seconds after asking a question before accepting replies. 6. When asking a question, have the children discuss it with their neighbour before stating it to the class. 7. Award separate grades for knowledge versus participation. 8. Balance methods in the classroom allowing time for movement and stimulation and time for quiet, independent projects. (5) 9. Smile--it puts people at ease; and set an example by the way you react to situations. 10. Help the child find meaning in their lives by reading about people who have contributed to our society. 11. As for yourself, be aware of the person you envy. It is the character trait they exhibit that you want to emulate. If you haven't found a goal for your life, you will find a clue by reviewing the things you used to play or dream about when you were a kid. Make friends with people who exhibit different personality characteristics than yours.

CONCLUSION - The way we live our daily lives depends on our distinctive personal character, which results from biogenic components, by the society in which we live and by our motivations. Various tests are available to get an idea about personality characteristics. "The better the 'fit' between a person's biogenic traits and the characteristics of the environment, the better the consequences for well-being." (1) We can change our ways of acting to meet a goal and widen our experiences by adapting a different pattern of behaviour. When we perpetually act in ways not in our character our bodies are stressed, our autonomic system is aroused and our health deteriorates. Restorative measures are called for. The extrovert requires a stimulation experience. The introvert is restored by a quiet time. In any case when a person suppresses a natural way of acting or suppresses something disturbing that happened, the arousal of the autonomic systems diminishes if the person talks or writes about the frustration. (1) Fortunately we can adjust to circumstances to find the best ways to live a meaningful life and promote well-being for ourselves and the children under our care. Happiness results from making good choices. (1) (5) Let's hear from readers. Does your society favour the introvert or the extrovert personality?


References:
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Marlene_Ritchie.jpg Marlene Ritchie
For her writing Marlene Ritchie (née Archer) calls upon her experiences of teaching in the U.S., Japan and China, as a nurse and assisting-founder with Emma N. Plank of the Child Life and Education Program, which addresses the non-medical needs of hospitalized children, as a cofounder of Ritchies, a Toronto auction house, about growing up in a small Ohio town and about being a mother. Currently Marlene is a freelance writer and tutor living in Toronto, Canada. For the past 10 years she has contributed to CRN.
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