Quiet, by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,
by Susan Cain
Quiet is Cain’s celebration of introversion. She discusses how America is a world of extroverts and that introverts are encouraged to be extroverts against their personalities. This is a society that does not appreciate introverts. Through interviews and personal experience, she provides scientific and anecdotal evidence that introverts can provide just as much (or more) to society as extroverts. 

I really wanted to like Quiet. Everybody seems to. And at the beginning I did. After all, I’m an introvert, at least I consider myself one despite the personality test that I took in a previous post. And that gets me to my first point. What is an introvert? Cain, and most others, define introverts as people who are drained by interpersonal interaction and need time to rejuvenate after a social situation. Extroverts are charged by socializing. But this is very black and white. What about the people like me who are 57.5% on the extroversion scale? I do need to rejuvenate after too much socialization, but I also seek out social situations. I do not seem to fit in her nice little structure. Cain briefly approaches this issue in her book, but I’m not sure most people care about the difference.

Another issue I had with the book is that it provided so much anicdotal scientific research. Don’t get me wrong. The research was fascinating. I just gobble that stuff up. But then I realized that she didn’t really seem to understand the implication of the research, and therefore the findings she presented weren’t very trustworthy. 

One example is that she discussed an experiment in which people were forced to “smile” by placing a pencil in their mouths. Then they watched a sad video. The people who were forced to smile felt much more cheerful after the video than the people who did not have pencils in their mouths. But later in that experiment, those same people – those who felt better after wearing the pencil – were more likely to react poorly to another sad video than the people who had not been forced to smile during the first video. Thus it s bad to suppress your emotions, because you will feel worse later.  

Then in the same chapter, she talked about another experiment in which people could not produce an angry face because of an injection of Botox. When anger was stimulated, the people who could express their angry-face were left feeling more angry after the experiment than those were weren’t able to express their angry-face.Thus it is bad to express your emotions because you will feel worse later.  

Note the contradiction?  

Another issue that bothered me about this book is her tendency to generalize a small population with the gigantic and diverse continent of Asia. In one study she quoted, the researchers compared the reactions of people from Hong Kong to the people of Israel, and found Israelis more willing to express their emotions. But Cain referred to the people from Hong Kong (a teensy tiny bit of Asia) as “Asians.” She referred to the people of Israel (a slightly larger territory) as “Israelis.” Israel, by the way is in Asia. Before you generalize, Ms. Cain, make sure you know your geography.

The last thing that bothered me about this book is that I felt it praised introverts to point of degrading extroverts. Yes,she continuously pointed out that both were needed, but I think if that were the case, she might have done a better job of showing how both are necessary to have a successful culture.

3 snowflakes for being an interesting read despite the weak points.


10 thoughts on “Quiet, by Susan Cain

  1. I made it about halfway through listening Quiet via audiobooks and I had some of the same problems. I liked the historical observation; that perhaps we've moved more and more toward being an extroverted society.

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  2. I have heard a lot about this book. I also heard an interview with Cain. The works sounds interesting.

    I find that many people and movements tend to rely on anecdotal evidence as well as studies that do not really prove all that much to support arguments. It usually is not the best way to get to the truth.

    As for classifying people into just two categories, “introvert” and “extrovert”, does sound too simplistic.

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  3. Wow, I really appreciate hearing your different perspective on this book. I don't remember her mentioning the second part of the pencil experiment, but if she did, I didn't see the implications either. I felt as though the science was pretty good, but it's outside my area of expertise and seems to fit nicely with yours, so I trust your judgement more than mine 🙂 I also wasn't bothered by how the author talked about extroverts, but suspected that if I was more extroverted I might feel differently. Great review!

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  4. Excellent review! You raise some very valid points about this book. It seems to be biased against extroverts. She certainly could have made her point without going to the extreme of denigrating them.

    I consider myself an introvert, and do agree that extroversion is valued much too highly in our society. Introverts tend to be the creators and innovators. However, extroverts are valuable as well. There should be a healthy balance between the two, but it seems that this author wants to have the pendulum swing all the way in favor of introverts. Perhaps she feels she's thus giving this group of people their due, but then she loses scientific objectivity.

    I had not heard of this book before, and was very interested in it as I started to read your review. Now I will definitely avoid it. Thanks for the heads up!

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  5. Yeah, I'm usually a fan of anecdotal science, since that's really all journalists can do when writing a book like this. But I felt that she didn't really understand the science that she was relating, which was annoying.

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  6. I thought the second part of the pencil experiment was very interesting because I've only heard about the first part – it's a pretty well-known study. That's why I paid special attention to it. Otherwise, I might not have noticed her internal contradiction.

    Actually, I am not a social scientist. I'm a biomedical engineer. However, I'm hoping to become a physician's assistant in psychiatry, so I'm kind of leaning into the social sciences lately.

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  7. Good to know! Given your reading and posting on psychology, I assumed that connected to your education directly. I'm even more impressed you're doing so much reading on the topic given that it isn't!

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