The Introvert's Corner

How to live a quiet life in a noisy world

A Theory About Introversion, Extroversion, and Autism

One theory suggests that introversion is on the nonclinical end of the autism spectrum. Read More


Wonderful post, Sophia, thank you!

The ending was perfect! Now

The ending was perfect! Now seriously, the post's great, but could you briefly summarize the theories you merely mention on this post? The Amazon links are great for people willing to invest time and money into this research area, but for mere introverts like me who are curious about this personality trait, a brief summary would work perfectly. Could you do that for future posts?


They're a lot to summarize in a blog post, but here is a link to Elaine Aron's website, to learn more about Highly Sensitive People

And here is Marti Laney's website:

I hope that helps.

LOL Lady Gaga...

That's really interesting! And it makes sense too. It really does.

Thoughts from an introvert

A few quick thoughts -

- one of the hallmarks of Autism is difficulty with empathy, I and many other introverts I know are highly intuitive and have profound empathy for others. Many people with Aspergers and Autism struggle reading non verbal cues. Many introverts I know are almost hypersensitive to these cues!

- I'm all for neurodiversity but not sure if Grimes is. She used many negative terms to describe autism and introversion, barely acknowledging the positive traits and concludes by pathologizing introversion and autism. The term "severity" is used throughout.

Thanks for the post though. I often wondered if I had Aspergers, but I'm really intuitive and good at reading people so I ruled it out. There could be something to this, or introversion could just be a commonality but nit necessarily the same as autism.



I thought about commenting on most of the points you did before I first posted but decided to keep it short.

Well, I didn't read Grimes thesis, I just took Dembling's word for it. I'm also all for neurodiversity, and I don't mean to offend introverts, I'm even considered one of them by some :)
I have a few acquaintances and friends(yes, those are more than three) who remind me of some high functioning aspies I've known, except that they are really good at reading people (actually consistently more than most of the clueless extroverts),they don't suffer from the social insecurities aspies do. By that I mean, they're more introspective than average, can keep focused on tasks for longer, excel at figuring out patterns, are not anti-social but just don't seem to be bothered by a constant "need" for socializing all the time as most extroverts do, etc.
But what do I know really.. I hope none of my friends read this, figure out it's me and get offended. :D They really are the "awesomest" people I know.

If you've read some Asperger's literature you must have stumbled in cases of people whom, for all practical purposes, are considered to have "grown out of it", for they don't score as Asperger's anymore and behave pretty "normally" (whatever "normal" means :p). I mean, things are far from being black and white.

This is so timely, as my son

This is so timely, as my son has been recently diagnosed with Aspergers, and my Mother happened to mention that many of the symptoms of Aspergers seemed to describe me as a child too. I decided that couldn't possibly be true, because while alot does fit, I'm probably overly empathetic at this stage of my life. Anyway, I've been struggling what all that means on a personal level, and it's both insightful and a relief to hear others muse on it as well (and especially Leonardo's positive comments!).

I have wondered if the over-empathy is some kind of coping mechanism, as in, an over compensation to prevent the pain that missing cues in childhood can cause. I tend to study people and psychology in the way my Aspie son is facinated by numbers and physics.

Anyway, I've found the theory of the Autism/Introversion to be facinating. Thanks so much for sharing it!


While many autism specialists contend that people on the autism spectrum have difficulty with empathy, the research on "Theory of Mind" does not necessarily prove that lack of empathy is the challenge. In fact, some autism specialists are beginning to realize that at least for some Spectrumites, it is an oversensitivity to the feelings/emotions/energy of others that is the challenge. For a start, read the article here:
Also visit William Stillman's website:

It is entirely possible to be somewhere on the autism spectrum and be able to experience empathy.

empathy vs oversensitivity

Very interesting, thank you. I know that in discussion here, we find that many of us feel like we're walking around with X-Ray Specs on, seeing and feeling so much about what is going on around us, we feel overwhelmed. I will pursue this.

Would explain a lot

Well, if this is all true it would explain a whole lot!! (for me personally) I have a lot of the Aspie traits minus being able to pick up on non verbal cues exceptionally well - painfully well. It might explain why I have a Masters degree and worked in a pet shop and got fired for stocking too slowly and had trouble findIng things on the shelf. Or my rigid adherence to methods and analysis over spontaneity and flow. And so many other things. The author of "be different" recognizes there are people who may be on the spectrum who aren't acknowledged.

Fascinating. Thanks for

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

Thoughts from an introvert

I find both points sensitive.
Sure, introverts seem to be good at empathy, if only because they turn much attention toward their own inner life, and ultimately we all are humans, aren't we?
Grimes seems to fall on the cultural prejudice of judging extroversion positive (& indeed introversion negative) *a priori*; instead of first trying to observe, define & describe. This is a logical error in my views (and not only because it breaks the scientific method).

[see also comment titled "alternative theory"]


To Kristen, about her thoughts from an introvert

Have you read the book The Highly Sensitive Person? (The author's work is mentioned in the article.)

I am reading it now and Aron claims that the highly sensitive person can be introverted or not, but that the sensitivity to others that you mention is part of being highly sensitive.

I think I am both introverted and highly sensitive.

It might be worth looking checking out!

P.S. The highly sensitive person (hsp) is one whose nervous system is aroused by stimulation that goes unnoticed by others. This seems to happen somewhere in the brain. It means that hsp's pick up information that goes unnoticed by others. What is moderately arousing for others is highly arousing for hsp's. And being overaroused feels uncomfortable and means we perform at a lower level. (My understanding of some of the authors points.)

Empathy and Autism

There is a difference between ignorance and indifference.

my son and I are on the autistic spectrum he is PDD-NOS and I have Asperger's (I'm XNFP). We are both very intuitive and empathetic, but we have a hard time reading social cues.

When my son understands another persons plight he responds very strongly. For example, when watching a movie where a boy could not find his friend, my son realized that the boy may never see her again and broke down sobbing. Most of the time he does not understand what is happening, and in these types of situations he says he feels confused.

One common misconception about autism is that they have no empathy. Little or no empathy is a defining trait of a sociopath, not an autistic person. What really frustrates me is that many sociopaths label themselves as autistic to gain more public acceptance which adds to the problem.

Same here

I'm also concerned by this idea because autism (and Aspergers Syndrome) are considered to be "conditions" (and not "good" conditions either). We're trying so hard to educate extraverts that introversion is NOT a "condition". The last thing we need is to have people start thinking of us as border-line autistic. :-(

I agree with what you say,

I agree with what you say, Kristen. I actually thing that it doesn't make any sense to compare autism with introversion. An introvert likes being alone or with few people but can "read" them and understand them, also knows how to be in society. Sometimes extroverts are the one who doen't know how to do it, exceeding their own space. So why compare introverts with autists? Why not compare also the extroverts? There are people with Asperger’s Syndrome that wants to socialize, the same why extroverts do. Another thing, introverts are more affectionate with the few friends they have, because they are focused in few people. They are the best friends we can have. When we can value that.

Just adds to the confusion

Ironically I think the more researchers try to nail down what introversion 'really' means the more it just the concept confusing.

There's a site on social skills I read and its writer recently posted on why he doesn't use the terms introversion and extroversion.

He says the terms are too confusing, and capture too many things at once, and everyone's definition of what those things are is different.

He says if he needs to talk about one of those things he'll do it directly, rather than bringing up a catch-all concept that supposedly includes it.

actually i wont lie i have

actually i wont lie i have wondered if i had a mild form of autisum. I know this cant be true for all introverts but i think it could be true for me.

Autism and empathy

Kristen: "one of the hallmarks of Autism is difficulty with empathy"

As an Aspie, I would dispute this claim. It's worth distinguishing between empathy (caring about others' thoughts and emotions) and sympathy (ability to easily determine what these thoughts and emotions are). Autistics are (as far as I can tell) typically somewhat lacking in sympathy with neurotypicals because we communicate in different ways, but we also typically try to make up for this by having much more empathy for others than the average neurotypical. On the flip side of this, neurotypicals are also often lacking in sympathy for autistics (again, because we communicate in different ways). The main reason that this is only diagnosed as a problem in autistics is that there we're the minority.

Hope this isn't too confusing

I'm late at reading this, but I understand the comment sympathy vs. empathy. I am an introvert, and I am extremely empathetic. I really understand and feel for people who go through all kinds of things in this life. However I am also not that sympathetic in general. Extroverts want a reaction to saying what's on their mind, or what's bothering them. I feel taxed at giving them what they want. I don't want to accomodate people, or listen to their family stories although I try to. My younger brother is introverted and has some autism. He has way less sympathy for people than I do, and comes off very rude. He definetly does not accomodate people however I know he's aware of how people say things, and unnoticed body language. So I think he's unsympathetic to the extreme, but he understands the unnoticed cues just as I do. I just pamper people more than he does, and want to less than extroverts do. His empathy is a little more of the mystery. Whether he hides it to himself because sometimes I see it, or maybe he is more resentful to people because of the burden their stuff puts on him.

Empathy vs sympathy

It seems to me you have somewhat mixed up the terms empathy and sympathy. Or rather, the definition you give for empathy is what I would consider to be sympathy. I agree that autistic people certainly can and often do care about other's thoughts and emotions. My son is on the spectrum, and even at age 6, he's shown this trait in abundance (having gotten student of the month for "caring" for the last two years). I also think he has empathy, which I consider the ability to feel what another person is feeling (put oneself in their shoes). It is true that autistic folks by definition have trouble easily determining the emotions of us neurotypcals (and vice versa, I might add), but I don't think this necessarily diminishes their capacity for either empathy or sympathy. I do hope my view becomes more commonplace, because I think the stereotyping of autistics as having little or no empathy is very inaccurate and harmful.

I think this is a wonderful post. love the ending too and have some problems with the researcher's statements

I'm not really veering off the Asperger's discussion as NLD--which I suffer from is on the spectrum!

There aren't any scales for adults who suffer from the disorder I write about NLD. Not sure there are really any for kids.

it's an interdisciplinary disorder that encompasses so many different ones.

I write very personal anecdotes for PT about it as it's so "new," and the scarce literature for adults has dire outcomes--institutionalized and/or suicide. That's not true for the adults I know with NLD.

But I'm not sure I like so much how it pulls it off, because some of the literature reads like an idiosyncratic account of a personal experience

I very much resent that sentence as if I waited for literature on NLD before I wrote anything or seriously thought about it I would probably be 80!

If we have articulate people who can walk people through their experiences is that maybe a new form of field literature?

Yes we bring our personal biases to the piece but if there are enough pieces by enough people who don't know each other it will eventually become random.

I don't use my professional credentials in my PT blog as I'm just another woman suffering from NLD

Yes, phenomenology is the

Yes, phenomenology is the study of phenomenal (sensory-based) experience (is that what you mean by "field literature"?). That field is very useful in guiding research (and is well-recognized for that reason, especially in philosophy/experimental philosophy), as is the use of case-studies.

What this researcher said, though, is that "introversion" is given as an idiosyncratic account, not "autism," and at this point in its conceptual development, that holds back further progress. It's an odd tension, trying to keep the field connected to the target population while remember that a personal account is often not as generalizable as is required for this approach to work in introversion research.

it's all because of personal accounts

I appreciate your objection--I write personal accounts as well. We absolutely are doing the field work. That's exactly how I think of it.

Researchers look to personal accounts and pop psychology as guideposts. I don't think Grimes intended to denigrate personal accounts as much as she feels that they are not enough anymore.

But nothing that affects a lot of people will go unresearched, so your blog is collecting preliminary data for future research.

Too Many Observers

While I don't see being mentioned on the autism scale as a bad thing (I have wondered about whether this was a possibility myself), I don't relate to it. I'm very quick with a comeback or interjection, even amongst strangers. I like parties and talking with people. I just find it so tiring that I generally don't seek it out.

My problem has always been that I am constantly observing my life through several different observers. If I'm having a conversation with someone, I see it from my point of view. I imagine it from the other person's pov, and I imagine it from an vague omnipresent pov looking down at both of it, as well as sometimes the pov of anyone that I feel may be watching or listening to us.

Obviously this occupies a lot of brain activity and can detach me from the moment, making everything seem awkward and I know it's not just me because people have remarked that I can seem distant and detached. Well, of course, do you realize how many viewpoints I'm analyzing right now?

Alcohol tends to turn that down, which is nice if not ideal.

this is very interesting

It seems like what you do would be one of the factors in the five-factor model I mention: Thinking Introversion. On the clinical side of that scale would be rumination, depression, maybe the schizophrenia spectrum.

Also by this scale, you could be extroverted AND introverted, because they would no longer be on the continuum. Your quick wits could be separate from your introversion.

When you consider how many factors play into personality, we can never predict the stew. The autism scale, when put in this light, is an amazing rainbow of traits.

I agree

So much goes into personality that it's hard to place people on a scale. My observation povs often deal with other people as well. For example, i'll notice someone outside a conversation group that looks like they are trying to be part of the group but no one is making room for them, so I'll make an effort to open up the group and invite them in, or involve others in a conversation if I observe that they seem like they want to say something. All of this goes on while I'm having a conversation which goes into me sometimes appearing aloof to the person I'm talking too. It's also why I don't relate to the autism aspect of introversion. It's almost like I feel like I'm trying to interact with too many people at once, even if I'm appearing to only have a conversation with you.

I like how you have explained

I like how you have explained the Thinking Introvert so well, which is for me, what drains my energy the most. I have this incredible need to make other people feel comfortable. I also see myself through other people`s viewpoints, and of course this is futile because one can never really know what is going on inside other people`s heads. But it is this constant guessing and counter-guessing that makes it taxing to be in a social situation.

To make matters worse, apart from being a Thinking Introvert(gosh my mind never cease to churn, even at bedtime), I`m also a Sociable AND Shy Introvert. I can be in social situations like parties, and I would act just normally, emphasis on ACT, then I would be SOOO relieved once I get home and have locked myself in my room.

Then there`s the Shy part. I`m extremely shy, but I act as if I`m just a little shy. I put a lot of energy into acting normal, and by the end of the day, when school is done, or a party is done, or my errands are completed at public places, I`m so mentally and emotionally exhausted I have to take a nap, even if I`m not physically tired.

I can also understand this theory of Introversion being on an autism spectrum, as far as communication is concerned. I have an extremely hard time communicating clearly, but only orally.It`s like my brain knows what to say, but my lips and tongue just won`t cooperate. The only time I speak clearly is if I have rehearsed in my mind what I`m going to say before I say it, then it comes out much easier. But of course I can`t rehearse every sentence in my head first when I`m talking to someone, that`s why I let other people talk more while I just keep asking questions.

Could make sense

This was really fascinating and helpful. i've been trying to understand why in some ways I feel less introverted than I used to but still considered myself an introvert. When I was younger till about my mid twenties I would consider myself an extreme introvert but more recently I realize that I am much more social and outgoing, I like meeting new people and can seem very engaged (for brief periods), I actually like random new experiences and have done karaoke in public more than once, without the influence of alcohol! Even so I still need recuperation time, I process internally, am introspective and still very much feel like an introvert. If there are different factors of introversion then its easy to see that my shyness or anxiety and need for solitude has decreased but other aspects remain the same.

Have you considered that the

Have you considered that the reason you feel "less introverted" is because you have grown up, matured, and become more comfortable with yourself and your preferences?

I wouldn't ascribe to Grimes' theory that introversion is on the Autism Spectrum.

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Sophia Dembling is a widely published Dallas, Texas-based writer. Look for her next book, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After, coming in January 2015.


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