Susan Cain says it's time introverts like her get their due. Western culture seems to fawn over attention-seeking extroverts while introverts have been overlooked. But no more, she says.
In her new book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," she says it's a mistake to value the extrovert over the introvert.
"It's a waste of talent and energy and happiness when we design society in such a way as to favor one over another," says Cain, of Rockland County, N.Y., who spent five years studying the world of introversion and its polar opposite, extroversion.
"Extroverts invest their energy and receive energy from other people, the world outside themselves. They orient toward other people. If they have a problem, they'll talk it out with others," says psychologist Judith Sills of Philadelphia.
"Introverts orient toward the world going on in their minds. We came out of the womb more or less one way or the other."
These traits are among those studied by personality researchers; in the popular culture, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator with 16 types (half introverts, half extroverts) helps people learn more about themselves.
Although Cain suggests that being introverted has advantages, introverts who may feel disadvantaged in the workplace or social scene know they sometimes have to fake it.
Clarice Scriber, 61, of Relay, Md., tested as an introvert on the Myers-Briggs, but says she knew it already.
"I'm naturally a reflective person. I need time to recover after I've engaged with people. I enjoy doing solitary things. I enjoy reading, and I'm OK doing things alone," she says.
Scriber, an executive coach, says she also meditates and recently participated in a day of silence at a Zen retreat center. But that doesn't mean she's a loner. She has friends, but "I also like my 'me time.' I need that."
Shyness is different
People often confuse introversion with shyness, but "shyness refers to how much social anxiety or discomfort you feel," Sills says.
Jonathan Cheek, a professor of personality psychology at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., has studied shyness for 30 years. "Some shy people have social anxiety but are not really introverted, and plenty of introverts are not shy. Introversion has zero relationship with shyness."
Psychologist William Revelle of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., has been studying extroversion and introversion since 1973 and doesn't think society always favors extroverts. "If you want to do something that requires sustained performance and paying attention for long periods of time, introversion is beneficial. We have shown for many years introverts do better on some tasks ... extroverts on others."
Personality psychologist David Watson, of the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., says estimates suggest 70 percent of people are somewhere in the middle on those traits, with about 15 percent at either end of the spectrum. But he says the literature suggests that extroverts are psychologically healthier than introverts.
Because introverts tend to be more socially aloof, he says, introversion is related to certain types of disorders, such as social anxiety or depression. "But there are plenty of introverts who are fine," he says.
They can act extroverted
Research shows introverts can learn to act like extroverts. Introvert Leah Rampy, 62, of McLean, Va., has learned to be extroverted at work, but "if I had my choice of an evening at home reading a book or partying, the book would win hands-down."
Rampy, a nonprofit executive director, says a decade of teaching helped her be more extroverted. "When practicing against type, it wears you out," Rampy says. "I had no difficulty doing it, but it was kind of exhausting by the end of the week."
New studies by Jacob Hirsh, of the University of Toronto in Canada, finds introverts more likely to be misunderstood.
"Introverts don't talk as much and they're not as visible interpersonally; it's harder to get a sense what their other personality traits are like," Hirsch says.
Social media has changed the landscape for introverts, Cain suggests.
Introvert Aaron Wormus, 33, a project manager and software developer in West Palm Beach, Fla., uses Facebook and Twitter during the day.
He puts himself in situations to overcome introversion, like attending spin classes, going to events and posting photos online and blogging.
"It gives the impression I'm super-social," he says. But if not for the blog, "it's not what I would choose to do."