quiet susan cain summary

Quiet by Susan Cain BOOK SUMMARY & NOTES

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Published: 2012 by Crown Publishing Group

Self-help | Non-fiction | Popular Psychology

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“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas–I mean zero.”– Susan Cain, First TED talk, 2012.


“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Our place on this continuum influences our choice of friends and coworkers, how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them.”

The book opened with the story of Rosa Parks, a “timid and shy” person but had the “courage of a lion”. Despite her introverted character, Parks stood up and refused to give up her seat to a white man.


This event helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States and helped change the path of American history.

Extrovert Ideal

the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. We too often admire people who are comfortable “putting himself out there”.

Research shows that talkative people are rated as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. People rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. This also applies in groups even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of talk and good ideas.

Introversion – along with its cousin sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness-is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and pathology.

The word introvert is stigmatized – one informal study by psychologist Laurie Helgoe found that introverts described their own physical appearance in the vivid language (“green-blue eyes,” “exotic” “high cheekbones”, but when asked to describe generic introverts they drew a bland and distasteful picture (“ungainly” “neutral colors” “skin problems”)

If you’re an introvert, you know that the bias can cause deep psychic pain and guilt.

Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.

Introverts vs. Extroverts

Carl Jung, the influential psychologist had published the book Psychological Types in 1921. He said that introvert and extrovert are central building blocks of personality. You may be familiar with this idea if you’ve already taken the Myer-Briggs Personality Test (MBTI).

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling. They focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them.

In contrast, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. They plunge into the events themselves. They need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

What do contemporary researchers have to say? They agree on several important points: introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well.

Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a friend, solve a puzzle or read a book.

Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing, and cranking up the stereo.

Many psychologists would agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They are sometimes rash, comfortable multitasking, and risk-taking. They enjoy the “thrill of the chase” for rewards like money and status.

Introverts often work more deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can concentrate. They’re immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Our personalities shape our social styles. Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of the company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things that never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict, but not solitude.

Introverts, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. Introverts tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk but enjoy deep discussions.

A few things introverts are not: a synonym for hermit and misanthrope. Shyness.

Shyness is a fear of social disapproval, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.

The myth of charismatic leadership. Extroverted and charismatic leaders tend to enjoy higher salaries but don’t necessarily perform better.

Introverts learn better. Sure, they think deliberately but they slow down after they make a mistake, which gives them an opportunity to learn better than extroverts.

The brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.

Many people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption, the implication being that enforced teamwork can stifle creativity.

Relying on brainstorming is a mistake. Thoughts and expertise springs from individual, not group.


Nature vs. Nurture

Introversion-extroversion is 40-50% heritable, meaning, average half of variability in introversion-extroversion is caused by genetic factors.

What you’re born with (temperament) is fixed and there’s little you can do about it. What you can control over time is your personality, that is the other half after your inheritance.


This refers to inborn, biologically based behavioral, and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and childhood.


Personality is a complex brew that emerges after cultural influences and personal experiences.

Highly Reactive Introverts

According to Jerome Kagan, one of the great developmental psychologists in the 20th century, if you’re highly reactive as an infant, chances are, you are likely to grow into a quiet teenager, sensitive to the environment.

Experiments show that highly reactive introverts need fewer stimuli. They strive in places that have fewer people, lower volume, less coffee, quieter. Extroverts are quite opposite.

Introverts have more sensitive brain chemistry than extroverts. They’re also more alert to changes which makes them more prone to the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. That’s why they are easily flooded in social settings and new environments.

Dopamine, a “reward chemical” is released in response to anticipated pleasures. Extroverts have more active dopamine pathways. They are more reward-sensitive. Introverts, in contrast, “have a smaller response” in the reward system.

New Groupthink

A phenomenon that has the potential to stifle productivity at work and to deprive schoolchildren of the skills they’ll need to achieve excellence in an increasingly competitive world.

Schools practice groupthink through a method of instruction called “cooperative” or “small group” learning.

Deliberate practice is the key to exceptional achievement. When you’re practicing deliberately, you’re working on what’s most challenging to you, not to the team. Plus, you can put in directed and undisturbed focus.

For an introvert, talk is for communicating the need to know the information. Quiet and introspection is a sign of deep thought and higher truth. Words are potentially dangerous weapons that reveal things better left unsaid. They hurt other people, they can get their speaker into trouble.


Western societies are more subscribed to the Extrovert Ideal, while in much of Asia, silence is golden.

One study asked Asian-Americans and European-Americans to think out loud while solving reasoning problems, and found that the Asians did much better when they were allowed to be quiet, compared to the Caucasians, who performed well when vocalizing their problem-solving.

One reason is the widespread reverence for education among Asians, particularly those from “Confucian belt” countries like China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Another reason is group identity. Individuals in Asia see themselves as part of a greater whole—whether a family, corporation, or community—and place tremendous value on harmony within their group. (Collectivists)

Western culture, by contrast, is organized around the individual. (Individualists)


“Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing an invention. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.”

“Person-situation” debate

Do fixed personality traits really exist? or do they shift according to the situation in which people find themselves?

Free Trait Theory

Invented by Professor Brian Little, “…introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love or anything they value highly”. The author dispels the notion that all introverts are shy and unable to be social. It suggests introverts can be passionate, sociable, and friendly.

Situationists posit that our generalizations about people, including the words we use to describe one another-shy, aggressive, conscientious, agreeable-are misleading. there is no core self; there are only various selves of Situations X, Y, and Z. Personality psychologists acknowledge that we can feel sociable at 6:00 pm and solitary at 10:00 pm and that their fluctuations are real and situation-dependent.

Studies show that one third to one half of us are introverts.

If you want your child to learn social skills, don’t let them hear you call them ‘shy’. They’ll believe the label and experience their nervousness as a fixed trait, rather than the emotion they can control. They’ll also know for well that shyness is a negative word in our society.

Don’t think introversion as something that needs to be cured. If an introverted child needs help with social skills, teach her or recommend training outside class, just as you’d do for a student who needs extra attention in math or reading.

Expose yourself and your child gradually to new situations and people. Respect his limits, even when they seem extreme.

Go with your child pace, don’t rush him. If he’s young, make the initial introduction with the other youths if you have to.

Be a role model by greeting strangers in a calm and friendly way, and by getting together with your own friends.

Celebrate kids for who they are.


  1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.
  2. Love is essential. Gregariousness is optional. Don’t worry socializing with everyone else. Think quality over quantity.
  3. Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.
  4. Use your natural power – of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.
  5. Figure out what you are meant to the world and make sure you contribute it.
  6. Most great ideas come from solitude.
  7. You can do anything an extrovert can do, including getting into the spotlight. Remember, our personalities stretch like a rubber band. There will always be time for quiet later.
  8. Albeit you’ll need to stretch once in a while, you should return to your true self when you’re done.
  9. Introversion plays yin to the yang of extroversion—we love and need each other.
  10. Remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi, he said: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”


I first picked up this book after watching her TED talk. Another reason is that I am an introvert myself, I’m interested in how people see introverts, I am also a psychology student!

Susan Cain did a great job in drawing upon the experiences and insights of experts, psychologists, scholars, and even common people in understanding introverts. I agree with the concepts. I particularly like the part when she explained introversion is not something that needs to be cured and that we need more understanding in highly sensitive introverts.

Nutshell: This book explains the mindset and certain behaviors of introverts. It also gives advice on how introverts should behave in unfamiliar situations.

*Cain follows it up with a sequel “Quiet Power: Growing Up as an Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (2016)

Thanks for reading! Comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

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