My wife and I are both introverts. We have both felt that we were on the social margins due to our inability to understand or care about most of the things that other people care about. Popular culture is an enigma to us. But when we were contemplating marriage together, we both held out a vibrant hope that we would be able to relate to our children better than to others in the world. We would be able to teach our children to appreciate what we appreciated about human life and contemplate and feel as we do.
In short, we were hoping that our children would be introverts. We also hoped they would be of a similar type to ourselves.
Our daughter Galadriel was born on March 28 of this year. We have found it a joyful experience to meet her and watch her grow over the last 3+ months. We have enjoyed playing with her, feeding her, seeing her smile, hearing her first attempts at laughter and speech, and staring into her beautiful eyes. We have also wondered if we would be able to relate to her as a fellow introvert.
Of course, she doesn’t need to be an introvert for us to relate to her and certainly not to love her. We will always love Galadriel, no matter what she turns out to be or what she chooses. And our influence as her parents will certainly turn her in an introverted direction when you consider how her personality will be expressed (not inborn temperament), since we will encourage reading, promote enjoying a low-stimulation environment, and hopefully develop the kind of friendship with her that will help her feel secure in associating with us rather than seeking out a friend group to separate herself from us. She will probably appreciate The Lord of the Rings, science fiction books, theology discussions, and nature walks, and will likely know the names of all of the Jane Austen novels and major philosophers (East and West) by age 7 or 8. So she will surely be someone we can relate to.
But will she be an introvert? It’s very likely, to be honest. My wife and I believe—only half-jokingly—that part of our desire to have children is the feeling of responsibility to people the Earth with introverts. Since introverts have a harder time marrying, caring for children, and earning a livelihood, and since we are in a fairly good position to do so, we should do our part to bring more introverts into the world. We believe that this is the case because introversion rests on inborn biological traits that are heritable. Both of us also have one introvert parent, even if our siblings aren’t introverts. And if introversion is heritable, then there’s a good chance our children will be introverts too, especially if it relies on some recessive alleles (though this would be a great topic for further research). We have at least some reason to believe this, since Jung believed that type rested on a genetic basis, and contemporary introvert writers agree.
So we are hopeful that our genes have combined to make an introverted temperament for our baby Galadriel. But, you may ask, do we have any signs yet that she is an introvert? Perhaps we do, but then again, babies tend to be sensitive themselves, and as first-time parents, we may just be projecting our desire for an introvert child onto her. Recall that introverts are sensitive to external stimuli because we process them more deeply. We tend to withdraw from the physical world and enjoy being in our minds and contemplating or feeling instead of acting. We also have a difficult time with physical discomfort and hunger, over-stimulation, and socializing.
We do see some signs that Galadriel may be an introvert. For example, she startles easily and dramatically. She also is very particular about the temperature of her milk and her bath water, will wake at the slightest provocation, and is very upset when hungry. She is particular about textures, and has always struggled to fall asleep in the recommended bed for infants (with a hard, flat surface for safety reasons). She likes a mild amount of stimulation, and will often be happy spending most of the day alone with my wife and me, except for a brief time on a walk or just looking around while I walk with her outside our house, letting the gentle wind caress her face (in the shade, since the sun bother her). She is easily tired by exciting interactions with her cousins, who are all extraverts, although she enjoys them.
Yet many babies are sensitive, and this may be normal infant behavior. Just because we as new parents find it a challenge to accommodate her selectivity and sensitivity doesn’t mean she must be an introverted baby. So we’re going to put it to the test.
One of the most interesting studies on introversion was conducted by Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman, as chronicled in their book The Long Shadow of Temperament. For the first episode in an eleven-year study, they brought several hundred four-month-old babies into their lab and put them through some ordeals. They separated them temporarily from their parents and then proceeded to expose them to highly stimulating situations: hearing unfamiliar voices while alone, smelling unfamiliar odors, and having a balloon popped behind them. During this time, they recorded and observed the babies’ behavior. Most of the babies showed no reaction, or only a mild reaction, to all of this stimuli. Only about 20% of the babies showed signs of distress such as vigorous pumping of the limbs, arching of the back, and crying—like what Galadriel does when passing gas or bowel movements—and they were the introverts. (Note that they refer to individuals that Jung calls introverts as “high-reactive” children.)
Now, I am not sure we will be able to exactly replicate the conditions of this experiment, especially since we’ll still likely be social distancing by the time Galadriel turns four months old. But when she’s around that age, I would like to expose her to some unfamiliar stimuli—with her parents covertly watching from another room, perhaps—and see how she reacts.
What do you think? Do you think I can tell by four months of age if my daughter is an introvert? What are other signs you think I should be looking for? And how could we make our experiment better? Mention it in the comments below.
I’m Harrison Paul, the Introvert Philosopher. I hold an MA in Philosophy from San Francisco State University and wrote my thesis on using moral education in schools to resist the influence of advertising on politics. I am the author of five-book introvert epic fantasy series Kaybree versus the Angels. I am also actively seeking publication for my nonfiction book The Quiet Minority: Why Introverts are Oppressed and How We Can Stop It and the Aurora Lightwalker series of far-future YA introvert novels.