The extrovert ideal. If you live in the USA, you know what this is. This means speaking up in class, volunteering to be the leader, always being talkative, avoiding “awkward silence,” and generally showing people that you are outgoing. Susan Cain discusses in her book “Quiet” how “extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” These are all viewed as positive character traits, and are overwhelmingly more highly valued in the US over more introverted character traits like taking time to think before speaking, needing time alone to recover from highly social environments, and generally not being as vocal. This does not mean that an introvert can’t be outgoing at times, or that introverts don’t enjoy talking, it just drains more of their energy rather than energizes them as it might for some extroverts.
The author, Susan Cain, also gave a TED talk about this topic if you want the short version. The main idea is that even though a large proportion of people feel that they are introverts, there is still the cultural expectation to hid or minimize that part of yourself. A book that I read earlier last year, “Covering” by Kenji Yoshiro, talks a lot about social expectations and trying to “cover” some aspect of yourself that may be socially less desirable or acceptable in order to fit in or meet expectations. This is another example where people may feel the need to cover, to give off the impression of extroversion, in order to be normal socially.
As an introvert, I can enjoy attention, but that depends on the situation and I often feel embarrassed easily or awkward when responding to others. I can enjoy talking, but usually I don’t feel comfortable doing so unless I feel confident in what I want to say. I really enjoyed reading this book as a confirmation that my personality is not lacking just because I am more on the introverted side of the spectrum. I can be more outgoing, just usually with groups of people where I know at least some or most of the people.
There is also pressure to be more “assertive” to promote yourself and your own work, at least in the science and research world. It seems that this might not really change, but it helps to know that there are ways for introverts to handle it and hopefully maintain a balance of comfort level. In some cases, Cain describes how successful academics have “carved out restorative niches” for recovering after giving a big talk or going to a big conference.
Interestingly, many chapters of this book focus on advice that would be relevant to teachers and parents who are unsure of how to encourage and support a young introvert. The author talks about situations like what happens when an extroverted parent has an introverted child, and how can teachers create introvert-friendly environments in their classrooms and to buck the trend to idolize and reward extroverts.
This book has helped me greatly with coming to terms with a personal matter, a breakup that happened a few years ago. He realized he did not love me for who I was and was wishing me to be something that I am not: more extroverted. He could not understand why I didn’t feel the need to talk all the time when alone together, was disappointed by my lack of outgoingness at medium-ish size parties of people whom I knew none, and didn’t really get that I needed time to unwind and, more importantly, recover after a day at work. I may have also become more reclusive as the weather was getting colder (perhaps SAD related?), but for whatever reasons, it did not work out and I did not figure out until reading this book that it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough in some way, but just that we were incompatible on this introvert-extrovert spectrum. It is ok and perfectly acceptable to be my introverted self, and someone will love me for it. In the end, no amount of trying to be more extroverted would have helped that relationship, and I should not have to.
I think there are some mixed reviews of this book, but I think it is a very well written book that every self-proclaimed introvert should read. Extroverts could use to read it too to better understand the perspective of the other side.
We keep hearing more and more cases where ‘bad science’ gets uncovered. Here is a really cool infographic by the folks at Clinical Psychology.
It goes along with some things I mentioned in a post about the role of ignorance in science. All of the incentives seem to be setting the system up for biased work, and the pressure to produce papers endlessly isn’t helping.
Sometimes, females will sneak off and copulate with males who might have better genes, while their normal mate is a better father (in terms of effort, territory and resources). The theory is that the females do this as a way to potentially increase the quality of her offspring (if some happen to be fathered by the extra male), but retaining the highest quality father. These events are called extra-pair copulations. This has been well studied in bird species.
It has been shown to happen in animals, but what about in humans? There are women who do this, commonly known as cheating, and sometimes even while their normal partner is aware of the extraneous activity. The latter type of case might be super rare, but maybe it is not so rare as we think. Maybe instead of thinking of the extra lover as having better genes, we should think of it as the female being inexplicably attracted to another male but not willing to give up her usual mate. Without getting too deep into the issue of cheating, this post will talk more about the ecological implications for such behavior.
I should also mention that this is bigger picture stuff. In the case of birds, each female bird may not make the decision with an understanding of the potential consequences. But, in the bigger picture her actions may affect her overall fitness and the fitness of her offspring. Fitness is a concept that is often misconstrued in general media. Being more fit does not necessarily mean you are faster or smarter that others in your population. Fitness is literally how many genetic copies of yourself you put out there in the next generation (aka your kids). Traits like speed or smarts can help you survive better to produce more offspring, and that is where they play into fitness. “Survival of the fittest” should be “survival of the genes of the fittest,” but that isn’t quite as catchy.
You might think to yourself that humans don’t think about passing down their genes, but how many people choose to adopt children (who very much need homes) over having their own child who looks like them (if they are able to)? I’m guessing not very many people (and according to Facebook, many of my friends have already birthed mini-versions of themselves) and there is nothing wrong about that. Most evidence of altruism is based on genetic ties, or personal gains in some way, so it would make sense that it wouldn’t be common for someone to adopt a child totally unrelated to themselves. (But thankfully, some people do adopt! Go adoption!)
I don’t want to overemphasize genetics, but it is an important underlying concept. There are definitely cases where women cheat with no genetic benefit at all. In the movie The Other Man (which my friend Chad told me about), the woman had no reason to cheat, and no intention to have more children with her lover. But she does it anyway. There may not be a reason, and perhaps there doesn’t need to be. She chose to do it and she was aware of what she was doing.
But going back to scientific ideas, some questions for further investigation might be:
- how common is this in human populations?
- and what are the benefits to fitness strategy (if any)?
- is it a valid strategy? (i.e. do the offspring end up getting better genes?)
Where do you think this fits into our biology?
I’ve done it. I’ve downplayed something about myself to give off a different or specific image of myself to others. I just never knew there was a word for it. It’s called “covering,” and it has deeper implications than we may think.
My book club read a few months ago a book by that name, Covering by Kenji Yoshino (more info at his website). He talks about the history of the gay rights movements, but also makes it clear that the covering phenomenon is universal and does not only occur in members of the gay community, for all types of people who may be discriminated against.
The first “phase” is converting, where the group feels the social pressure to “convert” to the norm that is accepted. There may even be direct actions taken by society in order to try to convert those individuals, such as sending people to places where they can be “cured” of homosexuality.
The next phase is passing, where the individuals will seem on the surface to be an average member of the larger group, such that the individual can “pass” for a member of the larger group. This is a sort of unspoken social camouflage. Others may know the underlying truth, but do not acknowledge it publicly.
The last phase, covering, is where individuals downplay certain aspects of themselves in order to present an image that is expected, such as changing your hairstyle from a ethnic style to a more commonly “acceptable” style. They may be asked to do this, or may do this on their own. This could also include things like not talking about family in the workplace as a woman because you would not like to seem too feminine.
“Appearance concerns how an individual physically presents herself to the world.
Affiliation concerns her cultural identifications.
Activism concerns how much she politicizes her identity.
Association concerns her choice of fellow travelers – lovers, friends, colleagues.”
These are the different avenues by which we may assimilate, or cover, in society. Why would anyone do this? Subconsciously or not? In a way, social interactions are biological adaptations for living in a community with many other individuals who may be different from yourself. Those differences could lead to conflicts, which may be better off avoided. It would be interesting to see if there are psychological or behavioral studies along these lines.
I can relate to each of these 4 aspects as a Chinese American growing up in New York City. I didn’t grow up in a very Asian neighborhood, and did not attend high school with many other Asian Americans until high school (where Asians made up nearly half of the student body). The Asians, of course, were drawn to each other and formed social groups, sometimes along very stark lines. These groups, or cliques, tended to look alike and dress alike, probably as a phenomenon of sorting and/or peer effects. There were those that rejected association with these groups, and seemed to not be Asian at all except for their Asian looks that that were given to them. They were Asian on the outside, but white or black or latino on the inside.
Yoshino makes the argument that covering inhibits our ability to communicate honestly and effectively. The projections of ourselves are what we think others expect to see. We feel the need to live up to expectations in order to maintain social balance, but where do those expectations come from?
Yoshino also talks about reverse covering, where individuals go to extra lengths to express their specialness (such as joining all the Asian culture groups in high school, or only dating within your ethnic group). I found that the pressures of both covering and reverse covering can occur in tandem, and makes for a confusing adolescence.
The take away in this book is that the conversation about covering is not happening enough, and if it does, it is not occurring in the right way. Several court cases discussed in the book were decided with assumptions that if a person could assimilate, that they should. These past few days I’ve been at a meeting held by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Perhaps we need a Convention on Human Diversity as well.
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from the book:
“It is a sad truth that one of the most potent psychic antidotes to racism is racism.”
Today I started reading news in Google Reader, and came across 2 topics that I wish could just find a way to meet up. They have to do with getting widespread behavior and mentality change to happen and funding for political campaigns/issues. That may not sound like they can be connected, but just read on!
The first article is titled “Misperceived Paths to Energy Savings” from the Dot Earth blog on the New York Times. It that talks about a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The researchers surveyed regular people and found that they generally do not have the right idea about what the most effective ways to save energy are, when compared to what is recommended by experts. The best ways to increase energy savings, according to this study, are efficiency improvements, rather than usage curtailment. (Though both may be necessary, in my opinion.)
I think what they are trying to stress here is that people have the idea in their heads that if they just turn the lights off when not in use or drive a little less, that that will be enough to make a major difference, that they can “do their part” in these small ways. While these behavioral changes are good and great, there really isn’t much of a change in mentality or understanding of the deeper issues. There is still a self-centered approach to those activities, whereas more significant action would take more significant effort (i.e. buying more efficient light bulbs, appliances, water heaters, cars, etc.; insulating your home).
The NY Times journalist suggests that this study is a sign that the US needs to invest more in energy literacy in order to make a dent in the wasted energy and avoidable carbon emissions related to energy use.
The next article I would like to bring into this discussion is about Proposition 23 in California. You can find the second article here at Grist. Prop 23 opposes the climate change legislation in California, and is supported by big oil companies from other states such as Texas. The campaign against Prop 23 also has big backers, such as environmental groups, tech companies in Silicon Valley, and other companies. All in all, there are several millions of dollars going into the campaigns on both sides.
I won’t get started on how unrestricted lobbying could possibly be one of the big reasons why our local and federal governments continue to fail on important fronts, because that would be too much of a tangent. But I couldn’t help thinking, what if they took those millions of dollars going into campaigning and actually put it into informative programs on the ground to address issues like energy efficiency? Maybe it wouldn’t even take that much seed money to get something going, because apparently home energy efficiency is a booming business.
Now, I’m not actually suggesting to take the money out of the No on Prop 23 campaign, but what if every group that invested in the campaign matched with an investment into an energy literacy program? Rather than only putting money into TV and radio ad campaigns that may not increase the general public’s understanding of climate change legislation but confuse people more?
I do not wish to resign to the idea that people are mindless and believe whichever campaign had the most funding and was therefore more prominent. Maybe I don’t understand enough about what is going on. I admit that I sometimes do not understand why people are such adamant deniers of climate change.
In any case, the point is that there really isn’t enough effort or funding going into informing the masses and this could potentially be an innovative way to raise funds and awareness. I would really like to see a lot of things become part of general knowledge, like climate change and evolution, which really deserved to be a part of general knowledge decades ago.