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Quiet by Susan Cain — Book Summary & Discussion

The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain

In her book, Susan Cain dissects the psychology behind the way extroverts and introverts perceive the world, as well as how stimulation impacts both personality types differently.

She demonstrates the relationship between someone’s temperament and personality. She links how someone’s biological predispositions manifest in different behavioral tendencies that are externally perceivable.

But not only does she enlighten readers on the science behind personalities, she also explains how we can work with said behavioral tendencies in a way that is most productive for us, even if the world appears to favor us having an entirely completely new personality.

This article will explain and discuss the main ideas of her book. Of course, reading the book yourself would be ideal. Hopefully though, this article can help you decide whether or not this is your cup of tea!

Big Idea #1: The Orchid Hypothesis

We must have all wondered at some point about where our personalities come from. Some of us might have even desired to drastically change it, if we deem substantial aspects of ourselves “undesirable” according to society. Cain argues that while temperament is innate from birth, how we express it differs on the context as well as our upbringing.

A good example to illustrate the innateness of our temperaments is by looking at the orchid hypothesis. David Dobbs studied how the innate temperaments of children (whether or not they are “naturally sensitive”) interact with their environments (whether the environments are healthy or destructive).

Children with more sensitive natures are labelled as “Orchids” while children who are less sensitive to environmental stimuli are called “Dandelions”. They found that Orchid children had more blood vessels in the right brain — leading to higher recorded temperature — than Dandelion children.

With the right brain being the “emotional” part of the brain, while the left the “logical” part, Orchid children are more emotionally reactive to both the positive and negative influences of their environment.

Orchid children who experience dysfunctional childhoods have been shown to suffer significantly more distress than Dandelion children, who are seen as more emotionally resilient. On the other hand, the sensitive nature of Orchid children allows them to thrive better than Dandelion children in productive environments, where they are more receptive to positive influences.

Do we have free will?

If such a significant part of our personality comes from the amount of blood vessels we have in certain parts of our brain — where does that leave free will? Cain writes that we do have free will, only that it is limited as we are still governed by our temperament.

If you don’t find your “authentic” self appropriate in a certain situation, however, you can always switch masks or personas depending on the occasion. But your temperament will dictate which masks or personas come easier and will be less energy draining than others.

Hence, the solution to survive as an introvert is to save up energy at times when you have to present as an extrovert and schedule downtime afterwards. To prevent burnout, you can put in your persona for 8 hours at work and let go of that outside of the office.

The strengths of an introverted brain

Cain contrasts Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin, the extrovert, get things done by influencing people. However, Eleanor is the one who determines the problems to solve in the first place. She is sensitive and identifies the needs of different groups and works with her husband to enact the solutions to solve them. Their partnership demonstrates how introverts can work together with extroverts to get from ideas to reality.

When introverts have a disagreement about something, we both have a mutual understanding to try to keep emotions out of the bay and focus more on calm and composed discussion. Likewise, when extroverts disagree, they’ll be completely fine with back and forth direct confrontation.

Since both are extroverts, the apparent “aggressiveness” of their discussion is mutually understood as frankness instead of disrespect. Similarly, when introverts prefer indirect insinuations over expressing emotions raw, both understand that it is not being “dishonest”. Instead, they are careful about respecting each other’s emotional boundary.

An “introverted” versus “extroverted” brain differs more than just the amount of blood vessels. They also differ in how they process neurotransmitters. While extroverts perpetually need the thrill of the dopamine high, introverts are more drawn to calm environments generating acetylcholine.

Wall Street crashed, while Warren Buffett prospered, because most Wall Street investors are highly extroverted (chasing dopamine highs) while Warren Buffett introverted (calm and analytical). So, while Buffett was able to make decisions based on reason rather than hype, such as his cautionary speech warning against the dot-com bubble, many people dismissed him — only to regret it a year later.

Application from Insights

Reading about the Orchid Hypothesis allowed me to accept and make the best use of my own limitations. I used to try to force myself to become an extrovert, believing that If there’s a will, there’s a way!— only to be disappointed by myself soon enough.

Now, I have learned to accept my temperaments and work to maximize what I can from them rather than delude myself into believing that I can “revamp” my natural temperaments somehow.

Instead of trying to do the scientifically absurd, I can instead work with extroverts to handle the parts in business that I don’t like. For example, in handling marketing, I can plan the overall strategy while another person acts as the salesperson.

Big Idea #2: Conflict Management Styles

So far, we know that (1) Personality is heavily influenced by innate temperaments, and (2) Society favors extroverts over introverts. What should introverts do then, as we can’t grow additional blood vessels in our brains, and can’t switch our brains’ preference of acetylcholine over dopamine?

In response to the dilemma above, Cain suggests we act more extroverted than we really are only for a greater cause that we believe in strongly. Otherwise, we will feel that we have to be someone we are not in order to succeed. In brief, do not try to be an extrovert generally, but identify specific situations where you have to exert extra energy to put on an act. Additionally, motivate yourself by doing it for a higher cause.

Common misunderstandings between introverts and extroverts

Furthermore, Cain notes that differences between introverts and extroverts may cause conflicts. For example, when arguing, extroverts believe that showing strong emotion — like anger and sadness — is a form of authenticity and is an honest way to display care to the issue.

On the other hand, introverts believe that reserving strong emotions is an act of respect to the other person. While introverts think that they are caring and thoughtful for not hurting the other person’s feelings, they actually end up coming off as aloof and apathetic to the extrovert.

Do not force children to become extroverted!

Lastly, Cain asserts that quiet kids must not be forced to become more extroverted. She stresses that it is a common misunderstanding to assume that introverted children are antisocial and do not have the ability to connect with others. Introverted children can connect with other people as well as extroverted children.

The difference is that introverts like to talk deeply about some topics, and it has to be with a select few people they feel close to. Meanwhile, extroverts can talk about any topic on a surface-level, but feel quickly bored with narrow subjects that require depth. Fortunately, introverts’ preference of depth over breadth gives them the focus required for professional and academic success.

Application from Insights

There were several takeaways that I learned from reading Cain’s work. Firstly, to build connections, I won’t try to superficially charm people and mass-distribute my business card. Rather, utilizing my introverted advantage, I aim to build deep one-on-one relationships.

Additionally, understanding the difference in introvert/extrovert thinking avoids me from misunderstanding the actions of those with different temperaments. We should also watch out for potential misunderstandings from their end about our behaviour.

For example, an extroverted friend told me that he disliked how I dealt with arguments. I usually gravitated to staying quiet and nodding my head, making it seem as if I’m not emotionally engaging enough with the issue. The reality is, however, I am as emotionally invested in the issue as he is, it’s just that I view staying calm and composed as the best way to show that I’m listening.


Main takeaways from Susan Cain’s Quiet:

  • Temperament is innate from birth, but how we express it differs on the context and our upbringing. The orchid hypothesis shows that temperament is determined biologically, but how the person develops eventually depends heavily on the environment and how they are able to — productively or destructively — express their traits.
  • Understanding your biological tendencies instead of fighting them can help you prioritize your time for things that align with your natural abilities and delegate tasks that other people are better suited for.
  • Learning how different personality types think can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.



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Celine Hosea

Celine Hosea

Indonesian writer. 18 years old. Read my articles: http://linktr.ee/celine.hosea