There’s been a lot of discussion of personality style over the past decade. Several popular books on introversion have prompted many people to reconsider their understanding of themselves and others. Research has confirmed that extroverts and introverts process information in fundamentally different ways (Forsman et al., 2012; Fields, 2008; Lieberman & Rosenthal, 2001). Introverts have pointed out cultural biases in favor of extroversion that permeate many aspects of life, and have called for more inclusive approaches to education, workplace collaboration, and social expectations.
What does this have to do with animal protection? If you are already familiar with Myers-Briggs and the “Big 5,” you may want to jump ahead.
If not, let’s take a moment to learn a little about personality research.
The two most widely-used measures of introversion/extroversion are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the “Big 5 Personality Dimensions” test. Many readers may be familiar with the MBTI assessment, which has been widely administered. The test measures introversion/extroversion and 3 other paired characteristics. The first letter of your Myers-Briggs type (E/I) designates you as extroverted or introverted.
The popularity of the test also makes it the largest single pool of introversion/extroversion test data. Web surfers who wonder about the overall prevalence of introversion and extroversion will find many instances (none of them cited) of a 25% introvert-75% extrovert ratio. However, these figures are derived from a non-researched guesstimate made by Isabel Briggs Myers more than 40 years ago. U.S. MBTI results from the Center for Applications of Personality Type (co-founded by Briggs Myers), show a ratio closer to 51% introvert-49% extrovert in the U.S.
The “Big 5 Personality Dimensions” system is based on a theory originally developed by Hans Jürgen Eysenck and his wife Sybil B. G. Eysenck. The five characteristics include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism (sometimes referred to as “emotional stability”), and openness. Introverts don’t exist by name, but only as “low extroverts.”
Many “Big 5” researchers have demonstrated an unfortunate tendency to conflate introversion with neuroticism, and extraversion with happiness. Critics have pointed out that “happiness” on Big 5 questionnaires is linked to assumptions about sociability that are heavily biased in favor of an extrovert orientation. Other research indicates that introversion and neuroticism are separate traits, and that introverts, too, can be happy! (Hills & Argyle, 2001).
Now that we have defined our terms, you’re probably wondering why you’re reading this on HumaneSpot.org. Here are 4 ways in which an awareness of introversion and extroversion can enhance animal protection advocacy:
Self-Care. A defining distinction between extroversion and introversion is that social interaction energizes extroverts, while it tires introverts. Research indicates that introverts process stimuli more deeply. No doubt that is why introverts prefer substantive one-on-one conversations to small talk, which they dislike.
Introverts are not shy (social anxiety is a mental disorder, not a temperament), or anti-social, they just socialize differently from extroverts. Many forms of advocacy involve some degree of social interaction, so introverted advocates need to select contexts in which they can interact most comfortably and effectively, and allow themselves plenty of recovery time.
Campaign Planning. Campaigns are most effective when the message, and manner of delivering it, are well-matched to the intended audience. Crowded, noisy demonstrations may energize and inspire extroverts, but will not attract many introverts. Savvy campaigners will distribute their message in a variety of ways that appeal to a range of personality types. Introverts, who tend to observe the behavior of others, may be particularly insightful about the best ways to accomplish this.
Internal Communications. Introverts like to think things over before expressing an opinion, perform less well under pressure or when they are being watched, and are heavily impacted by frequent interruptions. Brainstorming and other group activities may be a great fit for extroverts, but a solitary writing session might be more productive for introverts. Introvert deliberation may seem slower, but it’s also more thorough, and may raise considerations that are overlooked in a faster-paced context. It’s a good counterbalance to extrovert impulsiveness.
Conflict is more distracting to introverts, so be aware that brief, heated dust-ups that are quickly forgotten by extroverts can take a heavier toll on introverted group members. (Burtăverde & Mihăilă, 2011). Last but not least, many introverts dislike talking on the phone. If someone prefers email, go with it.
Introversion-Extroversion in Animals. No one who has lived with animals will be surprised to hear that they also can be introverted or extroverted. Distinctions between “outgoing” and “reserved” dogs are recognized by trainers. It has become increasingly common for rescue groups to consider whether guardian personality and home environment are a good match to a companion animal’s temperament before approving an adoption. Animal introverts living in the relentless over-stimulation of the factory farm environment are even worse off than more superficially reactive individuals in the same context, a point which may be persuasive to human introverts.
An awareness of personality characteristics can make us better-grounded, better-bonded, and more powerful advocates. We, who have argued so passionately for the individuality of animals, should not forget to apply the same perspective to ourselves, and each other.
If this topic is new to you, the links below may be of interest:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain, 2012) – An accessible and interesting book about cultural attitudes towards introverts, which has received worldwide attention. Unfortunately, Cain confuses introversion with high sensory processing sensitivity throughout the book (see also Aron & Aron, 1997).