“I’m just not very outgoing”
At such a large college campus, the students here at Penn State University encounter many different personalities each day. Whether you’re walking from class to class, getting coffee before your 8am, or really trying to crack down and finish your homework in the library, you’re bound to hear bits and pieces of some interesting conversations. Even though the topics of these conversation are probably very different, there is something very similar among them all. Almost all of the conversations that take place, besides ones in a classroom, are between a couple of friends. Unless you know the person you’re walking next to, or recognize the person you’re sitting by in the library, it’s pretty rare that you’ll strike up a conversation with just anyone you see. Seeing people who go out of their way to talk to strangers just for fun is pretty rare, especially when you’re trying to make it to your next class on time. When you meet someone who is super outgoing, able to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything, you might wonder what makes them this way. A lot of people might simply say “they’re just really outgoing.” Why are some people so comfortable with what’s familiar to them, that they have no desire to branch out? What gives these outgoing people the drive to be so open and talkative? This is the battle that separates extroverts from introverts.
Extroverts are people who prefer environments where things are unfamiliar, new, and stimulating. Introverts prefer comfortable settings with less stimulation. In a college student’s day to day life, the choice of meeting new people in new environments or sticking where you’re comfortable with who you know can be simplified as making a choice between stimulating environments or non-stimulating environments. This is a very simplified idea of the difference between introverts and extroverts. Most scientists believe that the difference between these two types of people is their brain’s response to dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to the brains pleasure center. It allows a people to feel and regulate positive feelings of happiness and reward for their actions. Extroverts’ brains produce more dopamine, causing them to feel a strong reward in unfamiliar, stimulating social situations. Acetylcholine is also a neurotransmitter, but it works in an opposite way. Acetylcholine gives the brain the feeling of pleasure when a person is in a comfortable, non-stimulating situation, where someone can focus on one task. This is the neurotransmitter that introverts respond more positively to. But this doesn’t mean that extroverts do not feel the effects of Acetylcholine or that introverts don’t feel the positive effects of Dopamine, they are just not what their brains respond most positively to.
In one study, one hundred and sixty-three students were observed. Before the study, each student took the Eyseneck personality Questionnaire. The test results showed that twenty-four students were introverts, and twenty-four were extroverts. Forty-eight of them had scores that were somewhere in-between. Each subject was individually placed in a room where they were asked to attempt to memorize images or facts, while having headphones in. It was hypothesized that introverts wouldn’t be less successful in memorizing these facts because their brains did not need more stimulation while they were already being occupied with the facts in front of them. Overall, background music increased extroverts’ ability to form tasks, while it decreased introverts’ ability to perform tasks. Further results and details of this study can be read here. This study, even though it is only testing background music, supports the belief that introverts prefer more calm and non-stimulating environments. It also supports the belief that for extroverts, more is generally better.
Now you can see when you walk around campus, when someone feels comfortable and happy walking up to a stranger to start a conversation about just anything, it is because a part of their brain is probably rewarding them for it. And when a person prefers to walk alone, thinking about their tasks for the day, part of their brain is telling them to.