Introversion, Shyness and/or Performance Anxiety


Over the years I have posted a few times about introversion. Every now and again someone tries to explain the the Extroverted how much and how deeply Western society is biased against Introverts. The older I have become the more aware of this bias I have become, though the experience of living and working cross culturally highlighted it. The cultures of the Congo (I think all, but certainly many of them) are biased the other way. For example, as with the culture of the ancient Hebrews, thinking before one speaks is seen as a sign of wisdom!

So I read with interest an article on Mind Shift, Strategies to Ensure Introverted Students Feel Valued at School, it has some sensible advice, as well as the standard assumption that Extroversion is normal and Introversion an abnormality. (We Introverts are used to such prejudice, and many will fail even to spot it!) But, the article made two assumptions that I would question.

Firstly, claims that introversion and shyness are different things. With shyness as she defines it being close to “modesty” in it’s meaning: “It’s a kind of self-consciousness and not wanting people to look at you and feeling easily embarrassed or easily shamed.” Beyond the assertion that Extroverts can also be shy, which is really interesting, a quick look on Google Scholar reveals little research that provides evidence, but quite a few claims for the theory.

I have earlier posted in Performers and audiences about my personal personality theory. In what is often lumped together as Introversion/Extroversion, I’d distinguish two distinct (perhaps even orthogonal) scales: I/E which speaks of factors like whether one is energised or exhausted by people contact, whether one speaks first or thinks  before speaking; and performance/modesty which would speak of whether one enjoys an audience, or wearing clothing in bright colours or that in some other way distinguishes the wearer from  the crowd. In many ways, as naming one of the poles “modesty” suggests this is similar to the shyness claim.

The two claims are clearly closely related, but I think are distinguishable in that the “shy” theory seems to make the other factor very close to anxiety, reading the material one could almost substitute anxious Extrovert for shy Extrovert. On the other hand the “performer” theory only relates to anxiety of a very particular sort, performance anxiety. A modest Extrovert would not be anxious about other things, only about performing, I know modest Extroverts, they are not anxious people, they just do not like being the centre of attention. I also know shy introverted Performers (like myself) who are not anxious (except about having to talk to strangers without a role to play), enjoy being the centre of attention, but hate meeting strangers (except when they have a role to perform).

Performers and audiences


I am convinced that alongside (but poorly if at all correlated with) the personality dimension Introversion-Extroversion is another I think of as “Performer”. I am highly introverted, but love standing talking to an audience. By contrast I know several strong extroverts who really do not enjoy that sort of attention, but if thrown into a den of lions room full of people would be happily chatting to new acquaintances within minutes (I’d still be hiding in the furthest darkest corner, trying mentally to project an invisibility screen).

So, I prepare the 5 minute Bible podcasts and read the stories because I hope for an audience. The bigger, the better!

This morning I was depressed looking at the stats and realising just how few people actually listen to a full episode. (Facebook has begun to show how long people listen for, and most switch off in the first moments and few are left by 30 seconds into the piece.)

Then I got a treat, an email from Librivox from the “thank a reader” section containing this encouragement:

He reads the book like an actor acts in a movie. He acts out every character that he reads. He puts so much passion and life into his reading and he is so expressive. He keeps the listener so engaged and his pronunciation is excellent. He is by far one of the best readers I have ever listened to.

That is just what I was trying to do when reading my part in Woman in White! Then to complete the chasing away of the blues, searching for a post I had made in one of the forums I came across this reference to my voice:

his voice is: soft, tender and warm. When I listen to his voice, I have a feeling that I have just been given a freshly baked, warm and soft doughnut.

This introverted performer is delighted. Until the next time I look at the stats and see how few people do actually listen till the end.

BTW it is my birthday tomorrow (15th May) so if you want to “make my day” just invite some friends to listen to a story or a Bible podcast and drive those terrible stats up ;) I might even do an encore!

Introversion again

It is some years since I last posted about the ways in which our extroverted society is biased against introverts.

So, here’s a TED video by Susan Cain that puts the case clearly.

  • Stop the madness of constant groupworkthough  (not reducing collaboration and sharing)
  • Go to the wilderness (everyone needs to “unplug and get inside their own heads”)
  • Take a look at what’s “inside your suitcase”  and share it (watch the video to understand this one ;)


HT: Miriam Bier on Facebook.