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Quiet Riot: Introverts, Extraverts and the College Experience

Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 18:09

Imagine a college student.

Did you envision yourself? Someone you know?

Maybe it was a guy sitting hunched over an opened textbook. He’s half-naked in his dorm, his hair greasy from staying in all weekend?

Maybe you didn’t imagine a book, but a pack of sorority sisters crossing the Palm Walk bridge. Maybe your college student is laboriously navigating a bike around that group of sorority sisters or sitting in a lecture hall or baking cupcakes with a roommate.

Maybe you imagined none of these.

The point of this isn’t to prove that the college student comes in different orientations but to suggest that everyone’s initial thought about the college student and his or her experience can be so radically different given that everyone’s chasing the same paper.

It’s without a doubt that learning, not just at the college level, is a social task. How that task is approached, though, hinges on a student’s personality, particularly whether that student is introverted or extraverted.

Really, it comes down to that.

College clichés aside — all brains were not created equal.

Both come with traits, maybe stereotypes, you’ve undoubtedly heard of since your first psychology class. Both personality types have the potential to be incredibly successful in college, but their learning styles and social preferences make for an almost opposite college experience than what’s projected by ASU and propagated by party school rankings.

In a broader sense, the neurological differences are of increasing interest to researchers in various fields. In the last three years, a 2010 Psychology Today article deconstructed and contrasted home décor decisions introverts and extraverts are likely to make; a 2011 study out of the UK’s Keele University assessed the cognitive benefits of chewing gum and how it differs between introverts and extraverts; and a study published this year in European Journal of Marketing suggested introverts don’t respond as well to overt sexual appeals as an extrovert may.

The harkening difference between the two personalities is extraverts “talk to think” and are most likely the person asking and answering questions in class (sometimes with an extravert’s signature long, anecdotal flair) and introverts are the quiet half of the student population that goes, to their preference, relatively unnoticed in-person (that is, unless an extravert is attempting to excavate an introvert’s from his or her perceived shell).

When you look at ASU, an institution with the highest enrollment in the nation, and MCC, a smaller, local alternative, the questions that arise are: Who is the ASU college experience — i.e. collaborative learning, entrepreneurial pursuits, student clubs, collegiate sports — really for? How do introverts and extraverts, with their wildly different learning preferences coexist in classrooms ranging in size from 12 to 200+? To what degree are instructor’s aware and/or responsible to account for students’ differences?


The Synonymous Few

Before getting to the nitty-gritty of introversion, it’s important to understand that the term is not synonymous with being shy or socially anxious.

Shy and socially anxious individuals want to be extraverted, according to Simon Rego, Director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“[Introverts] are not actually looking to be more social,” Rego said. “It’s their preference to be in quieter, more mind-challenging or thoughtful situations. They don’t feel like they’re missing out, necessarily.”

This is something that’s wildly misunderstood by, primarily, extraverts, who assume people who act introverted lack confidence. Introverts, though, can be just as confident as an extravert. However, this confidence will manifest in completely different ways.

“Shy individuals are actually the ones that want to be with other people, that want to connect socially but have this apprehension or fear that other people will sort of judge them negatively,” Rego said. “They’re the ones that can suffer in situations where there’s a lot of pressures or calls to be connecting to big groups or out there in the nightlife or social life. They want to [socialize], so they feel that longing, but their shyness gets in the way and that’s what makes them feel bad.”

Matt, whose last name is redacted for privacy, was one such student. During his sophomore year in college, he began to isolate from social situations. This progressively became more intense over “four to five” years, and after gaining control from support groups and behavioral therapy, he decided to establish the East Valley Young Social Anxiety Sufferers group on for socially anxious individuals who crave socializing. The group, which has over 250 members, goes out (for example, bowling) multiple times a month in small groups of six-ish people and builds confidence necessary to manage the kind of social anxiety that can inhibit students from getting the most out of their learning environment (and life).

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