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Why am I shy? New study offers insight on introverts

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Shy or introverted people may actually process the world differently than those who are more extroverted, according to a new study.

Shy or introverted people may actually process the world differently than those who are more extroverted, according to a new study.

Researchers have determined that about 20 percent of people are born with a personality trait called "sensory perception sensitivity," or SPS, which facilitates an inhibited, even neurotic, demeanor.

Colloquially, we say those people are "slow to warm up" to social situations, or may cry easily, or offer deeper than expected thoughts, according to the study.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York and Southwest University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China gave 16 participants a questionnaire to separate participants into two groups: sensitive and non-sensitive.

The researchers asked the participants to compare a photograph of a visual scene with one of a preceding scene, asking whether or not the scene had changed. Some changes were subtle; some were obvious. While participants looked at the scenes, the researchers scanned each participant's brain with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, machine.

The scientists found that participants deemed "sensitive" analyzed the scenes with subtle differences for a longer time than "non-sensitive" participants did, demonstrating greater activation in brain areas involved in associating visual input with other input to the brain and with visual attention.

The results suggested that highly sensitive individuals:

  • Prefer to take longer to make decisions.
  • Are more conscientious.
  • Need more time to themselves in order to reflect.
  • Are more easily bored with small talk.

Those attributes complement previous research, which found that highly sensitive individuals are more bothered by noise and crowds, affected by caffeine, and easily startled compared to "non-sensitive" individuals.

All that may seem obvious, but the research suggests that sensory sensitivity is a result of an inherent nature to be more attentive to experiences -- not the other way around.

A sensitivity trait is found in more than 100 other species, suggesting that it could offer an evolutionary advantage or disadvantage: the thinkers versus the doers.

Example: Thinkers could survive in a dangerous situation that requires thought, but doers may have better chances in situations that require aggressive action.

Their results were published in the March 4 edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

[via LiveScience]

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure