Sensitive Introvert

Are we born a sensitive introvert?

When thinking about personality traits, we experience how they affect our beliefs and behaviors. We ask the question, “are we born this way, sensitive introvert? There are genetic reasons why we may perceive the world differently. The brains of introverts are wired in ways that increase sensitivity to a lot of information that can have profound implications on our lives.

One key question that I will highlight from the research below, “are sensitive introverts more creative?”

Born a sensitive introvert

Are we born this way? Dr. Mari Olsen Laney, the author of “The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World, would answer, “yes.” She explains that to understand the bigger picture we have to include other factors like environment and genetics.

The science of sensitivity

Children tend to show their core personality traits such as introversion or extroversion from the moment they are born. A lot of this comes down to genetics and the brain.

Sensitive introvert. Born this way.

Are we born this way? The short answer is, “yes.” How we process stimuli depends a lot on genetics.

Neurotransmitters and dopamine

Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that motivates us for pursuing external rewards (i.e. climbing the social ladder or getting selected for a high-profile project at work). When flooded with chemical, both introverts and extroverts will talk more, be alert to their surroundings, and be willing to take risks.

Introverts have the same amount of dopamine as extroverts. The main difference is the activity of the what Jennifer Granneman describes as “the reward network.” Extroverts will get a buzz of enthusiasm. Introverts will most likely feel overstimulated.

Where blood flows, focus goes

Every wonder why introverts spend a lot of time in their heads? The answer is how we process stimuli and blood flow in the brain In an extrovert’s brain, more blood focuses along a shorter Dopamine pathway. Outside stimuli encounter parts of the brain that process taste, sight, and sound.

For introverts, a lot of the blood flow goes to the longer Acetylcholine pathway which processes stimuli through the following.

  • The right front insular – associated with empathy, self-reflection, and emotional meaning
  • Broca’s area – plan speech and activates self-talk
  • The right and left front lobes – help select, plan, and choose ideas
  • The left hippocampus – personalize experiences and stores long-term memory

The link between sensitivity and creativity

Psychologist Susan Meindl writes in her article, “Highly Sensitive Persons – High Sensitivity and Creative Ability” that this extra processing heightens our sensitivity to stimuli. Routing our outside experiences through the Acetylcholine pathway opens us up to the subtle nuances and emotional meaning of color, textures, tone of voice, fragrances, etc..

Sensitive introvert. Where blood flows, focus follows

Acetylcholine pathway is a longer path that allows us to process more of the outside stimuli.

This heightened sensitivity is linked to increased creative expression. Things like a vivid color palette will trigger a more intense and emotional response for introverts. The response can be more creativity or even a chance of over stimulation.

Yes, upbringing (and other environmental factors) play a role too

Genetics influences how introverted we are. Our environment and notably our parent(s) affect how we process stimuli and the behaviors that follow. Andre Solo describes one case study of how parents of an introverted child intentionally worked to create positive social interactions.

“(Matthew) stays introverted. His group experiences are positive. However, he still comes back from playdates cranky or sleepy. Nonetheless, he is well adjust socially”

There are genetic and biological differences between extroverts and introverts that affect how we perceive and process the world. For introverts, we spend more energy processing outside stimuli. This can lead to a higher level of sensitivity to subtle details which may manifest, influence, and even inspire in creative expression.

Read more about being a creative introvert.

Interested in more posts on bringing creativity into work? Check these posts.

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Matt Eng

UX Research Team Lead at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.

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