Editor’s note: this story pairs with “BYU resources for students with anxiety”
The topic of introversion took the world by storm after Susan Cain released her book titled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” in 2012. Near the time of her book release, Cain also presented a TED Talk called “The Power of Introverts,” which has been viewed almost 18 million times. Cain’s research was the largest amount of compiled information about introverts the country had ever seen, and was read and viewed by people around the world.
While dictionaries define introversion several different ways, in her TED Talk Cain said being an introvert is different than just being shy or not wanting to be around people.
“Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation,” she said. “So extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.”
Listen to Susan Cain's TED Talk about introverts.
One common misconception about introverts is that they do not like being around people. Cain said this is not true — even though introverts usually prefer more intimate settings and relationships, many still enjoy socializing and being around others. They just need time alone to recharge.
Cain also noted that introversion and extroversion both fall on a scale, and everyone experiences some of both personality types in their lives. Those who aren’t sure where they fall on the scale can take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, or take a more condensed (but free) version here.
Cain’s success sparked discussions about introverts in all aspects of life, including college. With Cain suspecting one-third to one-half of the entire population being prominently introverted, it is important to be aware that introverts think and learn differently than extroverts.
BYU accounting student Nichole Nelson said some aspects of school can be difficult for her because she is an introvert. She said the academic side of college tends to be mostly geared towards extroverts, making learning harder for her.
“Although it really depends on your major, I have found in the business school especially, extroversion is highly favored, “Nelson said. “Most large assignments are done with groups in which you are randomly assigned. Additionally, a large percent of the class grade is based on how often you participate in the class discussion.”
Nelson said these type of learning environments can inhibit her from succeeding the way she would like to in school.
“[Class participation] can be extremely stressful because as an introvert I don’t like working with people I don’t know and I have a hard time speaking up in class,” she said. “It is very difficult to get a good grade in these type of settings because what they are expecting of us goes against my personality and what I am comfortable with.”
Nelson said in most situations she would rather take a lower grade than have to force herself to participate in class and/or group projects because it makes her so uncomfortable.
Bryson Lind, an introvert studying psychology at BYU, agreed that a student’s major can greatly affect their learning environment. He said his major offers him much more time to speak to others on a smaller scale and in situations where he feels very comfortable. Lind, however, believes that the world in general (especially the United States) tends to be geared towards extroverts.
“I imagine that most schools are primarily geared towards extroverted behavior including BYU just because our capitalistic society particularly values extroverted traits because extroversion gets things sold,” Lind said. “Most introverts learn to exhibit extroverted traits to survive in a society that values extroverted behavior.”
Lind said overall he does not feel like he struggles too much academically as an introvert because of the major he chose to study. Even so, he believes there are ways professors can make classes more friendly to introverts without negatively affecting extroverts. He said making class participation voluntary is one idea, as well as providing more small group experiences in class to let introverts feel more comfortable sharing ideas.
“[This would] provide opportunities for students who don’t do so well in large group settings, as well as provide extroverts with opportunities to hear a different perspective and learn to utilize and get along with more introverted individuals,” Lind said.
Nelson agreed that there are ways professors can help introverts learn better.
“Instead of having forced participation they could have you choose whether you want to be graded on participation or a written version of your thoughts,” Nelson said. “If you aren’t participating in class you should be able to voice your opinions in essays or on a blog or something that would be an alternative.”
Lauren Walker, associate dean and professor of the family, home and social sciences at BYU, said while introverts may have a more difficult time in some aspects of college, they often have strengths as well, such as staying home to study instead of going out. She said our society often values extroverts, but she hopes that is changing.
Walker said that while introverts may inevitably struggle in more social situations, learning about their strengths and weaknesses can provide a very helpful path.
“Become educated about introversion and extroversion,” Walker said. “I found the book “Quiet” [by Susan Cain] to be extremely validating. Once you identify your strengths and how being introverted can serve you well, I think the careers that would suit you and the classes that are a better fit will become more apparent.”
Walker also suggested that professors mix up the ways they teach class to provide learning opportunities for both extroverts and introverts.
For introverts struggling in college, there are many online resources that provide tips and suggestions about how to progress. Susan Cain’s podcast has an episode specifically dealing with college, and there are an abundance of blogs and opinion articles online written by fellow introverts that students can look into.
“Being introverted isn’t a weakness,” Walker said. “Once individuals learn more about how their body works and stop trying to be something they aren’t, they will feel stronger and more confident and will find avenues to build their natural gifts.”