Silent Night: An Introvert’s Guide to the Holiday Gathering

Woman in sequined dress.

A holiday party dress, plus attitude.

Here in the northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter and temperatures colder. It’s a daunting combination, the daily decrease in daylight plus sudden sub-freezing temperatures.

Thank heavens for the upcoming holidays! Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the number of social gatherings on many people’s calendars can double, or triple. That number goes up exponentially for couples and people with children.

The holiday party is just the distraction needed: A bit of celebrating in sparkly clothes, with sparkly beverages and sparkling conversation. Ah, the party lights and music; it’s just the thing for getting beyond the dark, cold season. Right?

Hold on there, Liberace. There is another solution. It’s easier, requires quite a bit less dazzle, dollars and above all, socializing.

We could just stay home.

Skipping a party would be heresy to the extroverts among us, but it is far from the worst thing for an introvert.

Yes, I’m an introvert. But I’m not shy. I like parties, seeing friends, meeting new people and getting to know others better. However, these activities have a somewhat different appeal to an introvert than to an extrovert. Let me explain.

Attending parties can be a challenge for extroverts and  introverts. Here is the difference:

For an extrovert, the challenge of the holiday party is to meet everyone in the room. As a friend of mine says, they get “all geeked up”  being in a crowd. The collective energy drives them. Extroverts can be unhappy at parties, when they  don’t get to meet everyone.

Party closers?  Probably the extroverts.

On the other hand, for many introverts the very best possible outcome of a party is having a single good conversation. I’ve had this experience…think the year was 1992.

There is much that is misunderstood about introverts and introversion. And some of the misunderstanding is supported by research. A study conducted by researcher Inna Fishman, of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, CA drew conclusions that I found surprising.

Twenty-eight subjects were hooked up to an EEG and monitored for their reactions to a series of photos of faces and flowers.

 “The higher subjects had scored on a test for extroversion, the greater their P300 response was to human faces. In other words, extroverts pay more attention to human faces (P300 can be seen as an indicator of human attention, or how fast their brains noticed that something has changed.) There was no link between scores on extroversion and the P300 response to flowers. Introverts had very similar P300 responses to both human faces and to flowers. “

Fishman, speaking about the introverts said, “They just didn’t place a larger weight on social stimuli than they did on any other stimuli, of which flowers are one example”.  She continued, “[This] supports the claim that introverts, or their brains, might be indifferent to people — they can take them or leave them, so to speak”, in a report to LiveScience.

Another analysis of this research? I assure you that faces and flowers are distinguishable to me and to other introverts. We are not Golden Retrievers, however. Faces are nice to look at, but if I’m going to be contributing to scientific research give me something to work with. Drop a photo of a symbidium orchid in there, or a picture of Mahatma Gandhi.

Jonathan Rausch is an introvert that has written fluently on what this diagnosis means, in a very popular and entertaining article in The Atlantic, Caring for Your Introvert. He ‘came out’ as an introvert in this 2003 article and provides some needed clarity on what the ‘introversy’ is all about. For a really excellent explanation of introverts’ needs, read this article.

Finally, and speaking of holidays and decorations, I would like to propose this holiday analogy: Introverts are akin to an LED light bulb. We give a bright light, while using less energy.

Just because introverts are quiet doesn’t mean we don’t have an opinion. If you talk to an introvert you might find it the best conversation of the evening, which could mean that You are one of us.

I’ll be at the holiday party this year, wearing a party dress; just not one covered with sequins.

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Kari Kenefick

Kari has been a science writer/editor for Promega since 1996. Prior to that she enjoyed working in veterinary microbiology/immunology, and has an M.S. in Bacteriology, U of WI-Madison. Favorite topics include infectious disease, inflammation, aging, exercise, nutrition and personality traits. When not writing, she enjoys training her dogs in agility and obedience. About the practice of writing, as we say in DNA purification, spin, rinse and repeat.

6 thoughts on “Silent Night: An Introvert’s Guide to the Holiday Gathering

  1. Hi Kari,
    This was so true. I especially liked the article by Jonathan. And when you wrote ‘Hold on there, Liberace’, I laughed out loud. Not recommended at a front desk where you are sitting alone, but hey, funny is funny.
    Thanks,
    Mary

  2. Hi Kari,

    Sara tipped me off to this post and your blog in general. As an extrovert married to an introvert who have twin daughters who somehow managed to be one of each I really enjoyed this. Glad to see you are doing well after all these years.

    • Nice to hear from you and thanks for your story, James! Wondering if maybe, due to your family situation, you figured the whole introvert/extrovert thing early? I wasn’t aware until we took the Meyers-Briggs type indicator test here at work.

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