Caution, inhibition, and even fearfulness may be healthy--and smart adaptations for the overstimulated person, but they're still not characteristics many parents would want in their children, especially in a society that lionizes the bold. So it's common for moms and dads of introverted offspring to press their kids to be more outgoing, lest they end up overlooked in class and later in life. That, however, can be a mistake and not just because our temperaments are difficult to change fundamentally. The very fact that introverts arc more sensitive to their environment often means they're fully aware that they appear out of step with the expectations of others, and they can easily internalize that criticism. Just about every adult introvert can remember being scolded, even if gently, for being too quiet as a kid. Anytime a teacher grades on classroom participation, introverted kids will be at a disadvantage. There's nothing wrong with parents' nudging their shy children into the world, but there is something wrong if it's more than a nudge. "You don't want to break the kid by overwhelming their coping capacity,'' says Jay Belsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. "The key is sensitive encouragement."
But introverts also have tremendous advantages. Sure, there are thrills to be found in the situations extroverts crave, but there are dangers too. Extroverts are more likely than introverts to be hospitalized as the result of an injury, for example, and they're more likely to have affairs or change relationships frequently, with all the collateral damage that can entail. And while we all seek rewards, extroverts may be too hungry for them. That can lead them to be ambitious, which is fine, but it may also make them prioritize ambition over avoiding serious risks, which is not. "Extroverts are much more likely to get really excited by the possibility of a reward, but because of that, they won't always pay attention to warning signals," says Cain. "Introverts are much more circumspect."
What happens when people chase rewards--particularly the financial kind--while ignoring the attendant risks of catastrophe and collapse? You get train wrecks like the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, for which extroverts may deserve a lot of the blame. Camelia Kuhnen of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management found in a study that a variation of a dopamine-regulating gene associated with thrill seeking is a strong predictor of financial risk taking. People with a gene variant linked to introversion, on the other hand, took 28% less financial risk than others. And this applies beyond finance. The overconfidence that characterizes many extroverts can lead to grave political mistakes like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, in which President John F. Kennedy--a supreme extrovert--failed to foresee the strength of the opposition in Cuba.
Studies also show that introverts tend to be better gamblers because they have so keen an awareness of risk. It's no coincidence that Warren Buffett, the world's greatest investor, is widely considered to be a homebody, happier reading annual reports or playing bridge than going out and socializing. The introvert advantage isn't only about avoiding trouble--for yourself or the global financial system. Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson believes that deliberate practice--training conducted in solitude, with no partner or teammate--is key to achieving transcendent skill whether in a sport, in a vocation or with a musical instrument. In one study, Ericsson and some of his colleagues asked professors at the Music academy in Berlin to divide violinists into three groups, ranging from those who would likely go on to professional careers to those who would become teachers instead of performers. The researchers asked the violinists to keep diaries and found that all three groups spent about the same amount of time--more than 50 hours a week--on musical activities. But the two groups whose skill levels made them likelier to play well enough to perform publicly spent most of their time practicing in solitude.
In later studies, Ericsson and his colleagues found similar results with chess grand masters, athletes and even ordinary college students studying for exams. For all these groups, solitary training allows for a level of intense and personal focus that's hard to sustain in a group setting. You gain the most on your performance when you work alone," says Ericsson. "And the introverted temperament might make some kids more willing to make that commitment."
The trouble is, fewer and fewer of us have time for solitary contemplation and practice anymore. It's not just the assault of e-mail, cell phones and social. media; in fact, many introverts prefer these digital tools because they provide a buffer that telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings don't. But the very geography of the American workplace is designed to force people together. Some 70% of American workers spend their days in open-plan offices, with little or no separation from colleagues; since 1970, the average amount of space allotted to each employee has shrunk from 500 sq. ft. (46 sq m) to 200 sq. ft. (19 sq m). Much of this is done in the name of collaboration, but enforced teamwork can stifle creativity.