April 05, 2010
Shy And Introverted Process The World Differently

Maybe shyness and neuroticism are the result of a cognitive difference in how people process stimuli.

People who are shy or introverted may actually process their world differently than others, leading to differences in how they respond to stimuli, according to Stony Brook researchers and collaborators in China.

About twenty percent of people are born with this “highly sensitive” trait, which may also manifest itself as inhibitedness, or even neuroticism. The trait can be seen in some children who are “slow to warm up” in a situation but eventually join in, need little punishment, cry easily, ask unusual questions or have especially deep thoughts.

Are you more bothered by noise and crowds? Do you warm up to situations slowly?

Stony Brook researchers Elaine and Arthur Aron had already found that those with a highly sensitive temperament are, compared to others, more bothered by noise and crowds, more affected by caffeine, and more easily startled. That is, the trait is about sensitivity. Further, they proposed that this is all part of a “sensory processing sensitivity.” In other words, the simple sensory sensitivity to noise, pain, or caffeine is a side effect of an inborn preference to pay more attention to experiences.

So it isn't simply higher sensitivity to stimuli. It is the tendency to pay more attention to stimuli and to spend more time thinking about stimuli that makes people more likely ot by shy or neurotic?

Do you take longer to make decisions? Are you more conscientious? Do you need more time alone to think about things?

Hints of this processing sensitivity were found in the observation that, compared to the majority of people, the sensitive ones among us tend to prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk. However, the theory that what created the difference was processing rather than mere sensitivity needed to be validated.

Brain scans showed more activity in areas for processing visual input in people who were tested as more sensitive.

The investigators had 16 participants compare a photograph of a visual scene with a preceding scene, and asked them to indicate with a button press whether or not the scene had changed. Scenes differed in whether the changes were obvious or subtle, and in how quickly they were presented. Sensitive persons looked at the scenes that had the subtle differences for a longer time than did non-sensitive persons, and showed significantly greater activation in brain areas involved in associating visual input with other input to the brain and with visual attention (i.e., right claustrum; left occipito-temporal; bilateral temporal, medial, and posterior parietal regions). These areas are not simply used for vision itself, but for a deeper processing of input.

I would like to know whether, adjusted for IQ, whether the sensitives are more productive as scientists, engineers, or other types of knowledge workers. Are there types of jobs they are well suited for given their cognitive tendencies?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 05 12:16 AM  Brain Creativity


Comments
Spindizzy said at April 5, 2010 4:23 AM:

Am I misreading the article? These conclusions seem to be based on a sample of only 16 individuals.

Fat Man said at April 5, 2010 6:00 AM:

Clearly, they need Powdermilk Biscuits.

Lono said at April 5, 2010 8:28 AM:

"Hints of this processing sensitivity were found in the observation that, compared to the majority of people, the sensitive ones among us tend to prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk."

Hmm... this would fit me to a T and I am also unusually sensitive to caffeine - and in fact to most psychedelics as well.

However I am an Extrovert in actuality - never finding it difficult to approach strangers - although I avoid social networking with most Densans as I can rarely tolerate their overall lightness of being.

It may be that my natural intoversion is overcome by my addiction to risk taking behavior.

I remember reading the Stand as an adolescent - with the detailed desriptions of the long periods between human contact - and thinking to myself that it seemed a most pleasant prediciment. I do not think I would feel that way these days, however, as the content I consume on the Internet would be greatly reduced.

XiXiDu said at April 5, 2010 8:54 AM:

This pretty much confirms what I think to be the case with myself. All you wrote describes me perfectly. For some time I suspected it might be an autistic trait but ultimately arrived at the conclusion of this article, as it makes much more sense regarding my personality than autism does.

P.S.
You are always posting great stuff. Keep it going!

Xenophon Hendrix said at April 5, 2010 4:14 PM:

The big shtick of one of the researchers, Elaine Aron, is The Highly Sensitive Person--she has made it a cottage industry--and as Spindizzy pointed out, the sample size is small; so I'm inclined to take the article with salt.

I fit the listed properties very well, and I've been curious since my early teens about why I am the way I am. The idea that it is at root a difference in the way I sense the world, though, doesn't feel true to me. I freely admit that staring at one's navel is not scientific.

Matt said at April 6, 2010 3:11 AM:

This fits me as well. Judging by the comments it seems FuturePundit readers are *not* a representative sample of the greater population (surprise!).

The Myers-Briggs scheme seems pretty useful. I came in as a INTP which is apparently great for strategic thinking, technical writing, computer programming etc. So in answer to:

"whether, adjusted for IQ, whether the sensitives are more productive as scientists, engineers, or other types of knowledge workers. Are there types of jobs they are well suited for given their cognitive tendencies?"

...the answer is a resounding probably.

Dowlan Smith said at April 6, 2010 9:11 AM:

When I was in grad school, they had the Teaching Assistants take the Myers-Briggs personality assessment as part of a session on different learning types. Most of the Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering TAs were -STJ. I tested as a INFP. I was about balanced on Introvert-Extrovert, but about 90% skewed towards iNtuition, Feeling, and Perception (p) over Sensing (S) Thinking (T), Judgment.

http://www.xeromag.com/fun/personality.html
INFP: The Idealist

The INFP is a dreamy, imaginitive, idealist, capable of finding the good in anything or anyone, even something as foul as Newark, New Jersey. INFPs are sometimes dangerous to the well-being of society as a whole, as they are prone to adopting subversive and destructive ideologies like "The world should be fair," "People should treat one another well," and "You know, 'Friends' is a really, really stupid television show."

These irrational thought patterns may sometimes cause INFPs to run off and join the circus, the Resistance, or the Rebellion, where they tend to do well in any position requiring excellent hand-eye coordination or mastery of the Force.

Aron said at April 6, 2010 12:30 PM:

I can see the flicker on monitors with low refresh rates more often than others, or LCD lights attached directly to 60hz AC, and rainbows from DLP x1. Has this property been correlated to anything? I'm also INTP.

CRD said at April 6, 2010 3:47 PM:

Another INTP here. All fits me to a T except for the "cry easily" part (growing up in a large family of competitive extroverts may have fixed that though). I am a scientist and knew I would be one since age 4. I have run into a few other scientists with similar personality traits but I believe the fraction in science is less than the 20% claimed for the population. I have known a lot of folks with similar personality traits who never made it into formal scientific careers however, and I attribute their demise along the way to their sensitivity to their never being accepted into the extrovert-dominated club and outright discrimination against them by established scientists. Many of them became outstanding amateur scientists however.

Dan said at April 6, 2010 3:53 PM:

The key thing is that these people are sensitive to sensory stimulation, not to what people say. I fit the introverted, sensitive to crowds and noise, need time to reflect profile, but consider myself less sensitive than most to verbal input. I M-B as INTP and I'm a software developer. Interestingly, 20% doesn't cover even half of all introverts.

Sensitive does not mean too sensitive. At the other end of the spectrum, do we call the hyper-socials too insensitive?

NJBob said at April 6, 2010 3:53 PM:

It's fascinating how much of what is described matches my realty.

And here I thought it was that I'm just screwed up.

Pervy Grin said at April 6, 2010 4:39 PM:

I fit that description and am a scientist. Works for me.

In Hib said at April 6, 2010 4:41 PM:

Based on my experience as one, I think:

a.) this is a in-born tendency or orientation of varying degree.

b.) there are reinforcing environmental factors (e.g., if you're the youngest of the family).

c.) there is some ability to compensate or "grow-out" of it, but the orientation remains deep.

Bad Penny said at April 6, 2010 4:51 PM:

Describes my son to a T. Maybe I should be a little less naggy about "pick a major! make a plan! do something!" He'll get there in his own good time.

Keva Silversmith said at April 6, 2010 4:55 PM:

Seems like the article is simply describing a 5 on the enneagram. What takes scientists years of research seems to always exist already within the enneagram paradigm.

Charlie said at April 6, 2010 5:03 PM:

Family of five here w/ five introverts. The middle son actually tests out at 90 pctl on extrovert scale but was told by the psychologist administering the test that his make-up is more truly introverted. I'd like to know more about how that works myself.

The youngest is off-the-charts introvert. He is quite adept at initiating social contact, very easy and natural about it. Just don't ask him to sustain it... there's always a project calling. And those projects, whether solo or with one or two others can consume hours and days and even weeks without the lifelines the rest of us need. He's a top-notch computer animator and special effects guy. He would take online IQ tests and score in the 170 range, which seemed about right to me as I scored 155, and he's smarter. Still, he struggled in school. This is a kid who at age 10 sat with me at a baseball game watching the full moon come up for an hour before turning and asking if it was going about 25,000 miles an hour relative to us, and he understood it was "relative" yet they wouldn't let him into advanced science classes in high school. My wife stumbled onto an online test for right-brainedness. It involved a photo of a pile of coffee beans with one bean replaced by a human face. We each took about 10 secs to find it and congratulated ourselves on being right brained. We called the youngest to come take it, and as he walks in the room he says, "Why is there a face in those coffee beans?"

ChanceG said at April 6, 2010 5:36 PM:

Description fits me to a "T" as well. Don't think the sensory input sensitivity is the primary driver, more an effect than a cause. My working life has been in investment (first real estate, then equities), been pretty successful. Don't have the math aptitude for good science.

speechwitch said at April 6, 2010 5:52 PM:

Duh...can you say Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger Syndrome

適切 said at April 6, 2010 6:17 PM:

I fit this description and it seems to me that I see things, hear things in high definition. Most people throw away most of the information while I tend to retain it. Of course it takes longer to process that way. And ironically, it makes me seem a lot more forgetful because I don't link things together the same way as other people in my mind: I store things using different indexing.

Willy said at April 6, 2010 6:44 PM:

INFP here, and this description suits me well. I hate being startled and can't stand smalltalk. I make decisions carefully and notice things that others do not. I always need some "alone" time to sort of recharge. I am a software developer but some aspects of my career are difficult as I am more of an artist than a mathematician. I also find that I have very little patience to learn things that are not interesting to me, but can become obsessed with things that fascinate me. This last trait was not mentioned in the article, but I bet it applies to many of the commenters above.

Larry Faria said at April 6, 2010 6:50 PM:

Wow! That article described ME!!! Except for the sensitivity to caffeine, since I drink 15 cups a day, and being easily startled. But the article didn't mention the feeling I get that I'm an outside observer, just watching the world around me, though a woman I know says that's because I have Mercury and Saturn in aquarius. As for Randall Parker's final question, I do have a high IQ and spent 30 years as a civil engineer, but I never really accomplished anything dramatic in the field. Engineering pays very well, and I was only in it for the money, retiring in my 50s because my 401k did better than the company I worked for.

適切 said at April 6, 2010 6:52 PM:

"I also find that I have very little patience to learn things that are not interesting to me, but can become obsessed with things that fascinate me. This last trait was not mentioned in the article, but I bet it applies to many of the commenters above."

I've spent many, many years studying a very wide variety of things-that-can-be-studied, typically for 2-5 years at a time before moving on to the next thing. So it certainly applies to myself.

適切 said at April 6, 2010 6:56 PM:

"I never really accomplished anything dramatic in the field. Engineering pays very well, and I was only in it for the money...."

I think we're all clones. Electrical engineering here.

Jimmy J. said at April 6, 2010 8:06 PM:

These researchers need to read Steven Pinker's book, "THE BLANK SLATE, the Modern Denial of Human Nature." Pinker posits that we are all born with genetic tendencies to be a certain way. He believes that nurture (family and school) can move those tendencies a bit, but are not all important as many would have us believe. Each of five different personality traits are on a sliding scale from one extreme of the trait to its opposite.
The five categories of personality are:
1.Open minded ...............Closed minded.
2.Conscientious...............Careless.
3.Extroverted.................Shy
4.Aggressive..................Passive
5.Neurotic....................Psychically Stable
Most of the population is near the middle on most of those traits. That's what we would describe as normal. When you get too far over on either end you may begin to have problems making your way in the world.
Who might we describe as a closed minded, conscientious, extroverted, very aggressive, unstable person. I think it describes someone like the late Saddam Hussein pretty well. Or many other tyranniical leaders.

Think about yourself and where you fit. I'm about middle of the road on open/closed mindeness, more toward the higher end of being conscientious, quite shy, middle of the road aggressive, and a bit less psychically stable than average.
Shyness has been an issue all of my life. Have had to work on it, but I'm only slightly more outgoing as an old man than I was as a child.

A highly aggressive person can use his aggression for good or ill. An aggressive person could be a good soldier or cop. He could also be a bully or criminal. A very closed minded person can become an ideologue and stubborn about many things. A very open minded person usually is very inquisitive and more so if given proper training. They make good inventors and scientists. Ever know anyone who has all the advantages of life? Good family, good education, etc. but they are psychically fragile? They may get involved in drugs, cults, or have chronic depression. They would seem to belong on the more neurotic scale in Pinker's scheme of things.

Just my two cents worth.

Play around with the concept. I think Pinker is on to something here.

ELC said at April 6, 2010 8:22 PM:

Ditto everything Willy said at April 6, 2010 6:44 PM.

Zoe Brain said at April 6, 2010 8:46 PM:

The sample size is too small for the conclusions to be anything other than suggestive... except when seen in the context of many other studies.

One group that's had their neurology studied extensively are transsexuals, usually trans women. Those born looking male, but who have feminised neural anatomy in the lymbic nucleus. It appears that the anomalies found in this paper are also reported in trans women. They have additional anomalies too. They also tend to have anomalous distributions of white matter, in the frontal gyrus and elsewhere, and the corpus callosum usually follows a female stereotype. Those anomalies have not been reported in this paper, as far as I can see.

The brain is as much a sexed organ as the genitalia, and while there's some overlap (as with intersexed conditions in genitalia), the neuro-anatomy follows a distinct bimodal distribution.

Mick Boom said at April 6, 2010 10:05 PM:

Interesting article and comments. INTP here and I also fit the description spot on, caffeine sensitivity included. Monitor refresh rates at 60hz gave me migrains as well as flourescent lights. And like Willy, the commenter above, Im a technical artist in software development.

Regarding stimuli sensitivity, my brother and I use the term "Mall Sick" whenever we had to go to a shopping mall. We could take the lights, colors, sounds, smells and crowds for about 20 minutes before we're aiming for the exits.

Having said that though, some of these traits seemed to have softened as we've gotten older. According to this theory, that could be explained by the natural dulling of the senses. But by now we've gotten pretty set in our ways. Hey, if it aint broke...

Mick Boom said at April 6, 2010 10:05 PM:

Interesting article and comments. INTP here and I also fit the description spot on, caffeine sensitivity included. Monitor refresh rates at 60hz gave me migrains as well as flourescent lights. And like Willy, the commenter above, Im a technical artist in software development.

Regarding stimuli sensitivity, my brother and I use the term "Mall Sick" whenever we had to go to a shopping mall. We could take the lights, colors, sounds, smells and crowds for about 20 minutes before we're aiming for the exits.

Having said that though, some of these traits seemed to have softened as we've gotten older. According to this theory, that could be explained by the natural dulling of the senses. But by now we've gotten pretty set in our ways. Hey, if it aint broke...

Xenophon Hendrix said at April 6, 2010 11:24 PM:

Jimmy J., that isn't Steven Pinker's idea; it is the Big Five (or Five Factor) personality model. It has been around for a while, and twin studies show that the five big personality factors are about 50% heritable. Wikipedia has an article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits.

From what I've read, Myers-Briggs gets its usefulness from the extent it maps onto the Big Five.

Wacky Hermit said at April 7, 2010 5:22 AM:

Speechwich: it's not quite that simple. While autism and Asperger's are typically accompanied by differences in sensory processing, sensory processing differences are not part of the official diagnostic criteria for autism or Asperger's and can appear in people not on the autism spectrum. In fact, sensory processing differences can be a cause of behaviors that lead to an autism spectrum diagnosis. For example, you might see a child whose skin is sensitive taking off his clothes all the time, which severely impairs his social interactions. Or a child who seeks massive quantities of proprioceptive input might get sent home from school a lot for "fights" that start when his limbs flail out and hit his classmates by accident. It's hard to have healthy peer interactions when your peers are avoiding you.

I remember when I was a teenager I finally figured out that I was hearing things louder than other people did, but when I tried to tell somebody about it, it sounded like I was bragging that I had super-hearing and the next step would be to put on a patriotic leotard and fight crime by night.

Jimmy J. said at April 7, 2010 11:20 AM:

Xenophon H.
I tried to link to your url. No luck. I'll try google and see what it has. Wow, if Pinker pinched this from someone else, it's quite a steal. Base an entire book on someone else's ideas. Prolly been done before, but he's pretty well known.

kelly138 said at April 7, 2010 3:16 PM:

Larry, you drink 15 cups of coffee a day and you're not easily startled? That is a cast-iron constitution. You could peel me off the ceiling after 2 cups.

I fit this and other similar descriptions of introversion and neuroticism. I work as a book editor, and I would say that this also describes about 80 percent of my department. When the editors have meetings with the sales and/or marketing people, it's like two separate species. They can't understand why we can't answer their questions immediately and without reservation, and we just want them to go away.

Xenophon Hendrix said at April 7, 2010 4:25 PM:

Jimmy J., I'll try the link again: see here.

As you say, Pinker is far too big to be ripping anyone off. I have not yet read The Blank Slate, but I would be willing to bet that it is copiously footnoted so that all due credit is given to the originators of the ideas.

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