Born This Way – Longitudinal Study Finds Evidence that Introverts Are Born – Not Made.

Artwork by Alina Kim
Artwork by Alina Kim

A series of ground-breaking longitudinal studies conducted by developmental psychologist Dr Jerome Kagan, suggests that introverts are born, not made.

An ongoing study, begun in 1989 by Dr Kagan, documenting the temperamental and physiological characteristics of a group of children from infancy right through to adolescents has provided clear physiological evidence that a subset of infants as young as 4 months old, are capable of displaying stronger responses and therefore stronger levels of awareness,  known as ‘hypersensitivity’, toward external stimuli, than other infants of the same age.

After observing and measuring the emotional and physiological responses (heart rate, blood pressure and other physiological indicators related to the amygdala), of 500, 4 moth old infants to new and unexpected sights, sounds and aromatic stimuli, Dr Kagan predicted that the 20% of infants within his study who responded to the stimuli by showing signs of ‘hypersensitivity’ or ‘hyper awareness’, would, most likely, become introverts.

Dr Kagan’s hypothesis centered on his theory that introverts are people who are keenly aware of, and therefore more profoundly impacted on, by external stimuli.

The higher the degree of ‘hypersensitivity’ an individual experiences towards sights, sounds, smells, and the closeness of other people, the more likely it is that those same individuals will seek to avoid them.

Hypersensitivity both creates and explains why introverts hold such a strong preference for seeking out quiet, serene and unpopulated spaces in which to live and work.

Accordingly, Dr Kagan surmised, the more awareness and responsiveness towards external stimuli an infant demonstrates, the more likely it is that the infant is showing signs of ‘hyper-awareness’ and ‘hypersensitivity’ toward their environment.

Hence those infants who respond the most robustly when introduced to new stimuli, were according to Dr Kagan’s initial hypothesis, also the most likely to become introverts. But was he right?

Over the course of the following years, Dr Kagan met with and studied the responses of the same initial infants as they grew. At the ages of 2, 4, 7 and 11 years, the children returned to Dr Kagan where they were once again exposed to new and unexpected stimuli in the form of events and people.

As Dr Kagan had predicted, those who displayed the highest degrees of physiological and emotional hypersensitivity towards external stimuli as infants, had indeed grown into quite, reserved and thoughtful individuals whilst those who responded the least to the same external stimuli, had grown into relaxed, outgoing and gregarious individuals.

But what made Dr Kagan think that there may be a connection between hypersensitivity and introversion in the first place?

His scientific background provides the explanation behind both his initial hypothesis and his decision to measure the key sets of physiological responses that he and his team recorded, which all link directly back to an area inside the brain called the amygdala.

One of the key areas of scientific interest surrounding the amygdala is its connection to our ‘fight or flight’ responses. It is the amygdala’s job to send out the messages to our nervous system that trigger our ‘fight or flight’ responses.

The amygdala quite literally controls whether or not we will feel safe and secure or scared and threatened, when exposed to new or unexpected stimuli.

The more highly reactive our amygdala becomes, the more likely we are to feel threatened and become hyper vigilant, when confronted with new situations. This means that those with hyper sensitive or highly reactive amygdala’s are more likely to exhibit other symptoms of discomfort when confronted with new situations including increased heart rate, tightening of the vocal chords and having their bodies flooded with the stress hormone cortisol.

This combination creates an overwhelming sense of nervousness, anxiety, discomfort and fear in those individuals who experience it.

These are exactly the same physiological and emotional markers measured and observed by Dr Kagan within his longitudinal study of infants.

Dr Kagan therefore successfully linked hyper activity within the amygdala to the responses of hyper sensitivity observed within a subset of infants, during exposure to external stimuli. Given that his initial hypothesis was that he could predict, via their responses, which infants were more likely to become introverts, he also linked the key features of introversion to both hyper activity within the amygdala and hypersensitivity toward external stimuli.

In doing so, Dr Kagan found a direct correlation between biological response and social response which indicates that the origin of introversion is biological and not, as had been previously suggested, social, cultural or psychological.

Introversion is therefore the result of nature not nurture. Not a taught response but a biologically driven, natural one.

Dr Kagan’s study not only significantly highlights the need for our society to extend its understanding of the biological mechanisms of introversion, but also the need to be aware that an individual’s predispositions towards introversion should no longer be being viewed through the lens of wither wilful ‘choice’ or ‘personality type’.

His study clearly indicates that introverts are not people who simply ‘choose’ to live ‘far from the maddening crowd’, but rather are a legitimate subset of the population who experience a very real, biologically driven aversion toward our over crowded, over-stimulated, 24/7, modern-day society.

As such, introversion needs to be understood as a hardwired, physiological and naturally occurring set of neurodivergent responses toward external stimuli, as experienced within a subset of the population.

Introversion should be seen as a legitimate way of being and introverts viewed as people who, like everyone else, are striving in their own ways to flourish and succeed within a world that constantly offers up additional challenges, due specifically, to their unique way of being.

Therefore, introversion should be viewed as being yet another variation within the vast array of neurodivergent conditions, right alongside  Autism, which serve to make up the spectrum that is,   the human condition.

Women and Autism – How one woman’s letter to a psychologist finally helped her receive an ASD diagnosis after years of personal invalidation.

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This amazing letter was written by a woman who suspected that she may be on the Autism Spectrum, prior to meeting her psychologist for the first time. Here’s what she had to say.

“Dear Dr L—

I hope in this letter I can give you a more thorough explanation of how I feel, the way these feelings affect me and why I think a diagnosis and continued support would be beneficial to me.

I have an over-active mind and experience high anxiety.

I constantly see things at multiple levels, including thinking processes and analyse my existence, the meaning of life, the meaning of everything continually.

Nothing is taken for granted, simplified, or easy.

Everything is complex.

Being serious and matter-of-fact has caused me many problems and I have been told on numerous occasions that I come across as rude and/or abrupt.

Every year my work progress development report says that I would benefit from some kind of people management course, which to date has never happened.

Making friends or developing relationships has always been and still is very difficult for me.

As a child, I was convinced that I was away the day everyone decided who they would be friends with.

This has always been an area that has caused me confusion.

I still have a constant feeling that I am misplaced, isolated, overwhelmed, and have been plopped down in the wrong universe.

If I had friends, my tendency was to blindly follow wherever they went and to escape my own identity by taking on theirs.

I dressed like them, spoke like and adapted myself to his/her likes and dislikes.

I have had a couple of “friends” in my life for a very long time but I mostly talk to them online as I do not like leaving the comfort of my safe environment.

Even with people I know well I do not like being in their houses as my anxiety levels hit the roof.

I get agitated and uncomfortable not knowing what to say, what to do, if I’ve over stayed my welcome or would it be rude if I left now, have I stayed long enough.

This leads to seriously high stress levels, nasty thoughts in my head, sweating, increased heart rate and a sudden urgency to flee.

When I know I don’t have to be anywhere, talk to anyone, answer any calls, or leave the house, I can take a deep breath and relax.

Even something as simple as a self-imposed obligation, such as leaving the house to walk the dog can cause extreme anxiety.

It’s more than just going out into society; it’s all the steps that are involved in leaving–all the rules, routines, and norms.

Choices can be overwhelming: what to wear, to shower or not, what to eat, what time to be back, how to organize time, how to act outside the house….all these thoughts can pop up.

I struggle when I’m out with sounds, textures, smells and tastes, which in turn creates a sense of generalized anxiety and/or the sense that I am always unsafe or in pending danger, particularly in crowded public places.

There have been times in crowded places like shops where the confusion and anxiety has gotten so high that I have had to just say “I need to go” and have walked out and straight to the car to gather my thoughts and calm down.

Counting, categorizing, organizing, rearranging, numbers brings me some ease and has been with me ever since I can remember.

Over the years I have sought out answers as to why I seemed to see the world differently than others, only to be told I’m an attention seeker, paranoid, hypochondriac, or too focused on diagnoses and labels.

My personhood was challenged on the sole basis that I “knew” I was different but couldn’t prove it to the world.

My personhood was further oppressed as I attempted to be and act like someone I’m not.

I have children diagnosed with ASD and am concerned that I am not doing the best for them due to my own inhibitions.

Still I question my place in the world, even more so now that my son has a diagnosis of ASD and I see so many similarities between what he’s going through and my own personal experiences.

How can I help them to adapt and learn when I don’t know myself how to deal with the situations that are causing them the most problems?

I would really benefit from help in learning to deal with my issues.

Now that I understand the Autism Spectrum and am convinced I am well within the spectrum, the hope is that I will get support and advice can benefit me and allow me to help my children.

My hope is that through diagnosis and the support that should follow; I will be able to work on the areas that I lack the necessary skills for dealing with society, in.

If I can get help for myself it will put me in a better position to guide and help my children.

Apologies for the lengthy explanation, I hope I have given you the information you were seeking. If not please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Amanda”

 

Amanda is sharing this letter in the hope that it may help other woman avoid some of the pain and confusion she’s experienced in her own life. Thank you so much for your willingness to help others Amanda ❤

 

The Importance of Identifying Asperger’s Syndrome / High Functioning Autism in Adults

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“Growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome can be traumatic for many individuals.”

Many adults with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome are usually keenly aware that they do not ‘fit in’, yet are unable to either express or understand exactly what it is that makes them feel differently to others.

For this reason many undiagnosed adults develop negative perceptions of themselves as “weird”, “crazy,” or “broken.”

Despite these negative self-images, many undiagnosed adults are able to hide their difficulties by developing coping mechanisms, such as mirroring or mimicking those around them in social settings.

They are therefore seen as being able to engage in the everyday routines of life such as working, having relationships, getting married and having children.

Yet though they have the ability to apply such coping mechanisms, many individuals with undiagnosed AS, are never able to shake off the underlying awareness of themselves as inherently ‘different’ to those around them.

Ironically, the very skill sets that adults with undiagnosed moderate to mild Asperger’s apply, in order to try and ‘fit in,’ have meant that they have flown “under the diagnostic radar”.

Other individuals with undiagnosed AS, who have not learnt such skill sets, may show greater signs of having social communication difficulties.

This can make them more susceptible to situations such as chronic unemployment and social isolation due to the fact that they may be mistakenly perceived as people who are deliberately anti-social, argumentative, objectionable or aloof loners who crave only their own company.

In reality, these people may be individuals who are displaying the lack of social skills required to communicate and act appropriately, that make up the characteristics or traits commonly described in Asperger’s Syndrome.

It is now well established that individual with AS may display varying degrees of some or all of the following characteristics:

A lack of social skills which manifest in inappropriate social approaches, responses or social awkwardness.

Difficulty recognizing the facial expressions or emotions of others.

Difficulties in considering or understanding others’ viewpoints.

Limited interest in friendships


Difficulties with being able to communicate their ideas, thoughts and emotions.

Difficulties in comprehending and following social reasoning and adhering to the status quo.

Difficulty with transitions and changes.

Hold a strong need for routines.

Narrow range of interests or idiosyncratic special interests.

Be overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells and sights.

Have motor coordination difficulties.

Experience difficulty managing their own negative feelings, especially anxiety, anger and depression

Adults with undiagnosed AS are susceptible to experiencing high degrees of stress, frustration, confusion and anxiety due to their awareness that they do not ]fit in’.

These additional difficulties have often been misinterpreted, misdiagnosed, misunderstood and mistreated, especially when their underlying AS is undiagnosed or not adequately understood.

Some of the most common additional difficulties include:

Angry outbursts (physical or verbal aggression, verbally threatening behavior)

Agitation and restlessness

Increase in obsessive or repetitive activities, thoughts, or speech

Low mood or depression

Apathy and inactivity

Unfortunately many professionals who are unfamiliar with AS often only focus on the surface symptoms and behaviors that an individual with undiagnosed AS may display.

This leaves individuals with undiagnosed AS at risk of being incorrectly diagnosed with conditions such as:

Personality Disorders

Psychosis

Bipolar Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Mood disorder

It is therefore essential, that in order to prevent individuals with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome from being incorrectly diagnosed with conditions, treatment plans and medications that will not help them, that a thorough Autism assessment must be applied to adults who fall within this criteria.

A proper diagnosis of AS can better help adults put their difficulties into perspective and enable them to understand the underlying reasons for their lifelong struggles.

Correct diagnosis and effective treatment can help improve self-esteem, work performance and skills, educational attainment and social competencies.

More importantly a correct diagnosis can trigger both a journey of self-discovery and a healing process for the individuals concerned.