Review of the Book: “The Introvert Advantage”

– By a friend of the CT admins –

I’ve always been a staunch proponent of evidence-based knowledge and as such it is ironic that psychology has become one of my passions, as the discipline is a veritable minefield of flimsy “discoveries”. The essence of psychology is unscientific speculation which one then seeks to “prove” on scientific grounds.

The Cover of Laney’s Book seems to promise more than the contents can deliver.

Author Marti Olsen Laney (INFJ) works as a marriage and family therapist, but she was originally trained as a librarian. Given her academic training, one would expect Laney to be familiar with the relevant literature on the topic of her book and to present several sides of the issues she chooses to discuss. However, it seems that Laney has eschewed this objective approach when writing her book since “The Introvert Advantage” reads as a panegyric to introversion that is one-sided almost to the point of dishonesty.

Anecdotal evidence

The problems begin in the first part of the book where Laney sets out to cover the psychological and neurological research findings on introversion / extroversion. Laney’s selection of the research appears random, and her interpretations of the findings are opportunistic if not outright wrong, depending on how the substance fits with her underlying agenda. In the end, Laney’s conclusions largely derive from her own private theories of introversion which are predominantly drawn from her personal experience of being introverted and, reportedly, from her experience working as a psychotherapist.

Unfortunately, her own experience constitutes little more than anecdotal evidence and thus does not qualify as the scientific evidence for introversion on which Laney likes to claim that she is basing her case. By their nature, anecdotes do not necessarily say anything about people other than the ones they concern.

As for “real” scientific evidence regarding introversion, Laney highlights Carl Gustav Jung‘s theory of personality and temperament. Jung claimed that we are born with a certain temperament that places the individual somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes of ‘very introverted’ and ‘very extroverted’. Jung himself did not like dealing with empirical studies, but based his theory on anecdotes and personal experience. However, modern neuroscience has later confirmed that a personality dimension called introversion / extroversion does indeed exist and is genetically determined. The scientific results, however, are not as clear-cut as Laney makes them out to be, and she oversimplifies (or simply fails to consider) several problematic issues concerning the interpretation of scientific theories, thus demonstrating a lack of critical inquiry.

Introverts United

Along the way, Laney explains in detail how it feels to be introverted. To facilitate understanding, the lines are drawn as sharply as possible, and so according to Laney, all introverts have a rich inner world, while all extroverts constitute an unreflective, excitement-seeking mob with an endless appetite for stimulation. Thus the book lays the groundwork for a good, old-fashioned “us against them” situation: Beatles or Rolling Stones, Pepsi or Coke, cat people or dog people, introverts or extroverts – it’s the same old smear.

A typological model with only two categories can inherently never fit particularly well in reality as it is basically nothing more than a classic “either/or”  view. But Laney’s two-type typology is easily understandable, and she peddles a worldview to which everyone can subscribe – every introvert, anyway.

Laney’s writing style is very thorough. Explanations are usually followed by several detailed examples taken from her own experience as an introvert and as a psychotherapist or from her imagination when reality fails to supply the ideal examples. As such the book is readable, and difficult subjects such as neurology, physiology, Darwin, Freud, Jung and all sorts of technical terms are narrated and explained in such a way that most people can understand them.

Brad Pitt (ISFP) and the philosopher Daniel Dennett (ENTP): As Laney’s book only operates with one dimension of personality (E/I), Laney falls into the trap of describing all Introverts as “deep and reflective” with a “need to ponder history” while all extroverts are portrayed as immediate and concrete. In other words, she seems to say that all introverts are iNtuitives and all extroverts are Sensers. Yet in the case of Pitt and Dennett, it is clearly Dennet who has a need to ponder history, who strives for non-immediate knowledge, and so on.

The Missing Advantage

The book is extremely voluminous in its description of the “introverted personality” and thus is likely to describe things – commonalities – that most people will recognize as part of their own personalities whether they are introverted or extroverted. It is therefore important to note that you will not necessarily gain a better understanding of introversion by reading ‘The Introvert Advantage’.

However, I do recommend the book to people with low self-esteem. While reading the book, you will never feel that it is too technical or advanced for you, and the book manages to turn introversion into something extremely positive, providing the reader with numerous assurances along the lines of: “There is nothing wrong with being quiet.” As previously mentioned, the text is peppered with numerous examples from real-life situations, and it even features exercises in personal development.

One final positive thing about the book is that it indirectly introduces the part of psychology that deals with personality and typology. The reader is served the idea that other people do not necessarily think and act like themselves which may perhaps prime the reader for a further exploration of psychological type. Hopefully the reader will take away from the book a slightly more nuanced picture of other people and the courage to explore the diverse literature that exists within the field of typology and psychological type.

So what is actually the advantage of being an introvert? After reading Laney’s book, the answer to this question is still blowing in the wind.

 

4 Comments

  1. Yes, that book is a disappointment to me. I first read it when I was just learning about personality theory and it was jut so…dumbed down. Not to mention that priceless introvert neurotransmitter pathway vs extrovert neurotransmitter pathway chart!

  2. I think it confused E with ES and I with IN, which seems to be the tendency even among ISes and ENs because of the mental nature of N and physical nature of S.

  3. Exactly. Same thing with Susan Cain’s book. She says she spent seven years researching introversion and then makes this same mistake. Incredible!

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