The Science of Vastly Different Teens: Introverts and Extroverts
Personality is more than just how we act around others. There are deeply ingrained elements to who we are that impact every single aspect of our lives. Nowhere is this more true than when looking at the differences between extroverts and introverts.
Due to the prominence of these characteristics shown on television or in internet memes, there tends to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what these terms mean and how they relate to people. An introvert is not necessarily shy, or someone who hates being around others. They simply need time alone after social or stressful situations, preferring to recharge their batteries in the quiet and solitude.
On the other hand, extroverts are often seen as people who are loud and outgoing, always needing to be the center of attention. In reality, they gain energy and happiness from being around others and interacting with a myriad of individuals in many situations. That is how they rev up those batteries and alone time is less beneficial.
Both sides can have characteristics of the other: introverts could enjoy time with others and extroverts could cherish their alone time. But as a whole, these two types follow by a certain brain chemistry that dictates their more likely behaviors.
You may have noticed your teen has been exhibiting more of these traits as they age. Now that their brain matter is growing, forming, and solidifying they are beginning to show the more permanent stages of who they are and will continue to be in adulthood. Where in their childhood they may have shown both extroverted and introverted signs, they could be leaning much more towards one or the other now.
Introversion, Extroversion and the Brain
The differences between these two personality types goes well beyond personality and preference. A study done in 2012 by a Harvard University researcher found that introverts have more grey matter in the portion of the brain responsible for critical thinking and decision making. This may account for why introverts are less spontaneous and tend to prefer to think things through before acting.
Extroverts tend to prefer the rush of immediate gratification and react strongly to dopamine that accompanies quick decisions. Because of this, some studies have also found that they tend to be happier as a general rule.
What does all of this mean? Not as much as you might think. People are complex creatures who can fall on a scale of introversion and extroversion. But it does show us that personality types are fundamentally linked to brain activity and development, giving us unique qualities as per how our mind processes environments, chemicals and stimulation.
Understanding Your Teenager Through Brain Science
When it comes to your teen, knowing their personality type can go a long way towards understanding them and how they interpret rewards. For the more thoughtful and cautious introvert, they are more likely to wait to act and think things through, even if it means delaying gratification. This can lead to missed opportunities as their anxiety gets the best of them.
Extroverts can be more rash because they are seeking that reward right away. They are prone to jumping in without consideration of the consequences, making them more spontaneous than their more reserved counterparts, but their constant fear of missing out can get them into trouble.
Ultimately, we can use this knowledge to help us navigate the murky waters of parenting. Knowing how our teen is more likely to react in any given situation can give us a handle on how to help them, either by reining them in or pushing them to get out of their comfort zone once in awhile.
Communication can also be improved using this insight. You may have a better idea of why it is your introverted son or daughter has been so anxious about making small decisions about classes. Or the reason that your teen decided they would sneak out of the house after curfew.
It may just all be in their heads, literally.
- Williams, A. (2016, October 07). The Difference Between Introverts And Extroverts, In 1 Simple Chart. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/difference-between-introverts-extroverts-chart_us_57f794c2e4b0b6a430316b3a
- Holmes, A. J., Lee, P. H., Hollinshead, M. O., Bakst, L., Roffman, J. L., Smoller, J. W., & Buckner, R. L. (2012, December 12). Individual Differences in Amygdala-Medial Prefrontal Anatomy Link Negative Affect, Impaired Social Functioning, and Polygenic Depression Risk. Retrieved from http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/50/18087.short
- Bryner, J. (2010, December 21). Extroverts Prefer Immediate Gratification. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/9176-extroverts-prefer-gratification.html
- Pappas, S. (2011, May 03). Why Extroverts Are the Happiest People. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/13997-extrovert-nostalgia-fuels-happiness.html
- Bennington-Castro, J. (2013, September 10). The Science of What Makes an Introvert and an Extrovert. Retrieved from https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-science-behind-extroversion-and-introversion-1282059791
- Sundance Canyon Academy. (n.d.). Improving Communication with Your Teen [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.sundancecanyonacademy.com/improving-communication-with-your-teen-infographic/
Jacobson, T. (2018). The Science of Vastly Different Teens: Introverts and Extroverts. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/%e2%80%8bthe-science-of-vastly-different-teens-introverts-and-extroverts/