Introverts: Ignored and Misunderstood


Krzysztof Drewniak

Media, reflecting a anti-introvert bias in society, often either portrays introverts as objects of derision or marginalize them, ignoring their needs and desires. However, introverts provide many benefits to society, which unexpectedly include an increase in leadership ability. Society at large is not aware of these benefits and is very pro-extrovert. Out society should reform and be more accepting of introverts.

Introverts generally meet three criteria. They are less willing to engage in social interactions than those around them, especially when there are large groups present. Introverts are also often perceived as loners or shy, though this is not accurate. A final important quality of introverts is a preference for quieter settings and solitary activities, which is often interpreted as a self-focused nature. Introverts usually have only a few friends, though those friends are generally close. The “introvert” archetype does not exist in isolation, and it is often present along with other personality traits and archetypes that can make introverted characters difficult to identify.

Media often portrays introverts as targets for bullying, scorn, and derision because of their perceived strangeness and inability to “fit in”. In Lord of the Flies, Piggy, one of the minor protagonists, is a solitary person who does not often join in the other boys’ activities. Through his actions in the novel, we recognize his introverted nature. Other characters ridicule him for his strange actions, and even the main character participates in the bullying until he realizes that he should not do that. Lord of the Flies also shows another trend in media portrayals of introverts, which is that the bullying of introverts is seems as acceptable and ignored by other characters, except when someone needs to be shown as a kind person. Another example of introvert bullying occurs in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling 2000). In Rowling’s series of novels, we meet the character of Luna Lovegood. Luna is a quiet, reserved student who often sits and studies alone. When the author introduces her, she has no friends, though she later enters into a close friendship with the main characters. These are clearly the attributes of an introvert. In Goblet, most of the other characters, including the protagonist’s best friend, hurtfully refer to Luna as “Loony” Lovegood. Ron, the aforementioned best friend, only stops this behavior when he is confronted about its hurtful nature by the novel’s main character. Another example of introvert bullying in media is found in the character of Ananiasz from Nowe Przygody Mikołajka (Goscinny 2008). Ananiasz is a glasses-wearing student that excels in class and is not friends with any of the other characters. He avoids games such as football at recess, preferring instead to read quietly. Because of his unusual actions and the other characters’ view of him as a “teacher’s pet”, he is often mocked and physically bullied. Authority figures in the novel rarely take action against the bullies. This not only reinforces the idea that bullying introverted peers is acceptable, but also demonstrates authority figures’ general indifference to attacks on introverts. Finally, the main villain of Puss in Boots (Miller 2011), Humpty Dumpty, was bullied as a child for his love of solitude, and only had one real friend, the protagonist. The movie reveals that this bullying, which not much was done about, caused the villain’s later attempt at revenge on the town he was raised in. This portrayal is actually somewhat positive as it depicts the negative effects of widespread, tolerated bullying on introverts’ mental states.

Introverts are often marginalized, both in society and media. In the popular television series SpongeBob SquarePants, the character of Squidward has many introverted traits. He does not often go to social functions or engage with customers at his food-service job, unlike most of the other characters. One of his favorite activities is practicing his clarinet as home. In the episode “Good Neighbors” (2005), Spongebob and Patrick, the other two main characters of the series, attempt to spend their Sunday together with Squidward. Squidward wanted to spend his Sunday relaxing alone, and expresses this wish repeatedly, but the others think he just needs to “lighten up”. Squidward’s attempts to enjoy his rapidly dwindling Sunday in solitude are the main source of comedy and plot in the episode.

This piece of well-known work shows that introverts are often ignored in media, a portrayal that reflects wider societal biases.

Society often also marginalizes introverts and holds anti-introvert and pro-extrovert biases, as discussed by Cain and Walsh. In Cain, the speaker shares a story of being pressures to “fit in” and act in a conformist, extroverted manner while at summer camp when she simply wanted to read. These sources also discuss the general notion of introverts as “shy” or “lonely” people, who just need to “get out more”. The unstated implications of this language are that introverts are abnormal and that they can and should easily conform to the norms of extroverted society. However, introversion, a characteristic possessed by one-third to one half of the population, is one end of a spectrum of dispositions that has its own advantages and disadvantages that are not often respected by modern Western culture. For example, society currently assumes that working in groups is the best way to achieve goals. Even our schools, which used to feature rows of desks where students, especially the more introverted ones, could work alone, have now adjusted to this groups-only paradigm. Cain argues that this transition is not beneficial, especially because group collaboration can stifle creativity and innovation, especially by introverts who feel somewhat uncomfortable in group settings. Cain also points out that modern psychology shows that working in groups results in a somewhat subconscious acceptance of the most charismatic person’s ideas, and that charisma does not correlate with idea quality.

Not all introverts in media are portrayed negatively. One example of a positive media portrayal of introverts is the character of Sherlock Holmes, who was recently revived in Riche (2008). Holmes is an extremely intelligent detective who has one confidant, his assistant Watson. He enjoys practicing the violin and studying alone. His high intelligence allows him to solve many crimes in a heroic, positively-depicted way.

This brings me to my next point: the advantages of introverts for society. Introverts are often smarter and more intelligent, both of which are qualities that can help greatly advance society. Introverts are also less likely to take needless risks than extroverts, which can inject a much-needed element of oft-unheeded caution into decision-making processes. Research has also found that, contrary to our intuitions, introverts often make better leaders than extroverts because they are more willing to listen to input from others instead of being eager to push their own ideas. Some recent world leaders, such as Rosa Parks and Gandhi were introverts. Their introversion helped their movements along because people saw that these leaders did not want the spotlight that was thrust upon them, giving them a more honest character. The solitude of introverts is also essential to true creativity. Charles Darwin and Dr. Seuss are both examples of people who needed introverted solitude to create their great accomplishments that had profound impacts on society.
In conclusion, society is lamentably biased against introverts. These dominant views are harmful and they have the potential to slow social progress. Popular media often reinforces or remarks upon these views. A greater balance of introversion and extroversion in society and a willingness to accept introverts for what they are instead of trying to change them will help our culture move forward and become a better place for all.

Works Cited


Cain, Susan. ”Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TED. Web. 06 May 2012. <http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html>.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962. Print.

”Good Neighbors.” SpongeBob SquarePants. Nickelodeon. 20 May 2005. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://spongebob.nick.com/videos/clip/good-neighbor-full-episode.html>.

Goscinny, René, and Jean-Jacques Sempé. Nowe Przygody Mikołajka. Trans. Barbara Grzegorzewska. Kraków: Znak, 2008. Print.

Puss in Boots. Dir. Chris Miller. Perf. Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis. DreamWorks Animation, 2011. Film.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2000. Print.

Sherlock Holmes. Dir. Guy Ritche. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009. DVD.

Walsh, Bryan. ”The Upside Of Being An Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated).” Time Magazine: 1-7. Time Magazine. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,2105432-1,00.html>.