Are Introverts More Skeptical?

An extrovert's adventures raise the question, "Are introverts more skeptical?"

Posted Sep 30, 2009

I just finished reading a book called Spiral Jetty: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West, recounting one woman's road trip to view famous works of land art. I enjoyed the book, but more to the point of this blog, I was immediately interested when author Erin Hogan admitted that she was totally freaked out by the idea of spending three weeks alone on the road. She wrote that "...my trip through land art would be an unprecedented assault on my own fear of solitude."

Sounds like an extrovert, eh? In fact, she wrote, the trip would be the longest period of time she had ever been alone. As a frequent solo traveler, and someone who has spent more than three weeks alone, I was fascinated by this journey into Hogan's extrovert anxiety.

When she visited Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" in Utah, she immediately struck up conversations with other visitors to the remote site. (Admittedly, I might have also--it's pretty hard to not converse when you're the only people present at such a location.) When she stopped her first night, in Nebraska, she spent most of the evening in a bar, talking to the bartender and a lumber salesman from Colorado until "the peanut shells were swept up." Then she went to her motel room "...and set to work pretending I wasn't horribly alone."

Hogan struck up conversations all over the place, like travelers are "supposed" to do (read my spin on that in my essay "Confessions of an Introverted Traveler"). To be expected. But I was stunned when after a long, scary, and unsuccessful drive (also in Utah) in search of an artwork called "Sun Tunnels," the first thing she did was seek comfort by finding a bar in the middle of nowhere for beer and conversation. There, she started talking to the bartender, who also was police chief of a nearby town.

"I sat at the bar and talked to Maurice," Hogan wrote. "Or rather, he talked, and talked and talked."

Just reading that sentence provoked in me a choking, "I would chew off my own leg to escape" feeling. But Hogan enjoyed listening to Maurice. She let him talk and talk and talk (and my mind went numb as she recounted his stories, just as it would have had I been at that bar with them), and then another guy joined in. Hogan spent four hours in the bar and in that time, the pleasant experience turned on her "...and I saw myself for what I was, a tiny drunk thing who didn't know where she was going, sitting in a dive bar filled with oversolicitous and, at moments, hostile men." She ended up sneaking out of the bar and fleeing.

You mean she didn't see that coming? My mind went on red alert the moment she bellied up to that bar.

Responding to an earlier post in this blog, a commenter wondered about the correlation between introversion and skepticism, and this little episode brought that to mind.

Certainly as a woman with experience traveling alone, I tend towards caution. Perhaps more than necessary, perhaps not. But aside from that, do you think that as introverts, we are more skeptical of other people? Are we more cautious and likely to question other people's motives? Is it possible that extroverts' need for conversation overrides caution, opening them up to experiences--for better and sometimes for worse? Do you think that our skepticism about the value of random interaction closes us off from experiences--also for better and worse? My gut feeling is that Hogan took a foolish risk, but others would say she engaged fully in the trip.

What do you say?

By the way, I expected some sort of "solitude is OK" epiphany by the end of the book, but Hogan was a little disingenuous about that. By page 113, she had connected with a friend who would travel with her through most of the remainder of the trip and that whole solitude issue was dropped.

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Copyright 2009 Sophia Dembling