Friday, April 06, 2012

Review: “Quiet” by Susan Cain

A long, long journey through Introversion

Author Susan Cain is an INFP, which means that her dominant personality trait is Introverted Feeling (Fi = a strong moral sense) and her extraverted secondary trait is Intuition (Ne). This prioritisation and structure is exactly what we find in her book.

Innumerable case studies throughout this overlong book demonstrate the overlooked virtues of introversion, but within this torrent of examples the bigger thematic issues often get lost. If Susan had been an INTP I would have expected her to start with a definition of Introversion, situating it within broader personality theories such as the "Big Five" and the MBTI, and examining the nature-nurture disputes between "Standard Social Science Model" Blank-Slate adherents and evolutionary psychologists. Then perhaps we could have examined the evidence for a genetic basis for the Introversion-Extraversion dimension and the relevant brain mechanisms, which seem to implicate serotonin and dopamine. Finally we could have looked at ethnic differences in these traits: Asians seem to be more introverted, Africans more extraverted, with Caucasians in-between. Actually Cain mentions every single one of these points and more besides, but she seems incapable of structure, analysis and coming off the fence.

Susan Cain never set out to write the book I just described. Instead she has written an American-centric cultural manifesto for the rights of the introvert trapped in an overbearing extraverted culture. If you are an introverted American (less so for other nationalities), then on reading this book you will feel that at last someone understands your plight, you are not alone and there are coping strategies which Cain copiously sets out. In this sense, the author has produced a great self-help book for the quiet amongst us, albeit one which reads like an enormous bowl of candy-floss.

Cain observes in a special note at the end that she has deliberately used the erroneous spelling "extrovert", rather than the correct "extravert". Given that the word is used about a thousand times in the book, why would you use the incorrect "layperson's spelling" rather than getting it right and educating, in a small way, your public? I guess it's symptomatic of the author's priorities in this book, as affiliative F trumps analytical T one more time.