BOOK REVIEW BY RAYMOND M. WONG
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012. Print.
Susan Cain’s premise is that introverts are misunderstood, undervalued, and maligned in a world that worships extroversion. There are societal consequences to this and Cain backs up her claims with compelling research. One example is a section early in her book on the limits of brainstorming. Cain poses that brainstorming in groups is actually less effective than working alone and cites 40 years of research to prove it. The reasons? “Social loafing” in a group setting allows members to sit back while others do the real work. “Production blocking” is when only one member can contribute at any given time, so others are forced into a passive role. “Evaluation apprehension” is an impediment to productivity because people are fearful of appearing foolish in front of their peers. All three hinder the creativity of brainstorming in groups.
Cain divides her book into four main sections: how extroversion came to be so valued in this society, the biology of temperament, Asian Americans and extroversion, and how to apply the ideas from this book to enhance communication, relationships, and parenting.
Cain graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School, practiced as a corporate attorney, and her legal background is evident in the way she presents her arguments with the research to ground her assertions. She contacted experts in psychology and read numerous articles and books about introversion/extroversion to write Quiet.
Some of Cain’s most riveting hypotheses: Americans have evolved from a culture valuing character to one that puts a premium on personality. Fast, articulate speakers are considered more intelligent, and their thoughts and suggestions carry weight, while quiet participants are drowned out by the charisma of the extroverted members of a group. As a result, a wealth of creativity is lost. Solitude and personal space promote creativity. Multitasking decreases productivity and increases mistakes by 50%. People have “sweet spots” or levels of stimulation that correspond to their temperaments. Understanding this can help people arrange their work, social, and home lives to remain in their optimal sweet spot. Extroverts tend to be more “reward sensitive” or predisposed to seek rewards even in the face of possible consequences. Thus, introverts may be better investment advisors, especially because they have a more realistic take on benefits versus risks in the financial markets. Introversion is a better predictor of higher academic performance than cognitive ability at the college level.
In the last section of her book, Cain provides useful examples of how to apply her theories of introversion and extroversion to help couples overcome communication blocks related to their preferences. She discourages parents from trying to force their more introverted children into becoming extroverts. Instead she advocates exposing more introverted children to new experiences a little at a time, at a pace that works for them. Cain suggests teachers mix in lectures, independent study projects, and small groups with the larger group discussions in a classroom to appeal to both temperament types. And she offers advice to those seeking careers suited to their temperament: look at what you wanted to be as a child, seek out the kind of work you naturally move toward – perhaps what you would do for free, and pay attention to the people you are jealous of because they probably are doing what you would love to do.