If you consider yourself an introvert (same!), you know that our needs differ from our extroverted counterparts. For instance, we need lots of alone time to recharge our batteries, especially after socializing. And some introverts may opt for a quiet, cozy night at home over going out any day of the week. It turns out that it’s entirely possible introverts are more sensitive to stimulants like caffeine, music, and alcohol.
Here's one explanation for this: In general, "introverts tend to be intuitive, and deeply aware of their own thoughts, as well as sensitive to their external environment," says Gregory Scott Brown, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, mental health writer, and author of The Self-Healing Mind, adding that this is especially true when introverts are surrounded by people. "That means any external stimulus, whether it's a comment, look, action by someone else, or gesture is something the introvert is likely to notice."
Although introverts are commonly perceived as shy or anti-social, Dr. Brown says that isn't always the case. From a scientific perspective, the difference between extroverts and introverts is arousal, also called cortical activation levels. Extroverts have low arousal levels, so to reach optimal arousal, they require more stimulation, hence why they become naturally energized by social interactions. On the other hand, introverts have a high cortical activation level, so they tend to avoid stimulation.
With that in mind, below, Dr. Brown and Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist, and author of Joy from Fear and Date Smart, explain why it’s possible introverts are more sensitive to stimulants, in particular, caffeine, music, and alcohol.
So, why are introverts more sensitive to caffeine? "Perhaps because introverts tend to be more self-aware with regards to their body, mind, and internal environment, research does suggest they are more likely to notice ingestion of substances like caffeine," Dr. Brown says. "For instance, one study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics tested 42 participants (21 extroverts and 21 introverts) to see if the effects of caffeine impacted their performance. Results showed that introverts could better perceive whether they ingested caffeine or the placebo than extroverts. So, Dr. Brown says that while higher doses of caffeine may lead to higher physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate) in both personality types, introverts may be more likely to notice the response.
However, Dr. Brown notes that in terms of caffeine affecting introverts' and extroverts' performance differently, results are mixed. Some studies showed that the stimulant effects of caffeine did differ between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts, for instance, noticed improved performance after consuming caffeine, but introverts become over-aroused, which impaired their performance. Meanwhile, another study published by the American Psychological Association showed that caffeine didn't affect the mood and performance of introverts and extroverts differently, even at different times of the day.
So, while consuming caffeine may or may not affect an introvert's performance levels, their heightened self-awareness will likely notice the side effects (we're looking at you, caffeine jitters!) quicker or more often than extroverts.
As for sensitivity to music, Dr. Brown points to a small study found in Sage Journals that compared introverts' and extroverts' responses to music and background noise, which showed that extraverted people worked with soft music in the background twice as much as introverts. Furthermore, while extroverts' performance was similar with or without music playing in the background, introverts performed poorer with the music playing than without it, supporting the theory that introverts are more sensitive to stimulus. That said, more research is needed to know for sure as it is a complex relationship.
According to Dr. Brown, who personally identifies as an introvert and loves listening to loud music, sensitivity to music and noise in general really comes down to personal preference and whether it's an inviting experience for you or not. So increased sensitivity to music may not be the case for all introverts across the board.
Although Dr. Brown and Dr. Manly note that research doesn't indicate that introverts are more sensitive to alcohol (in fact, one study from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology showed that extroverts have greater alcohol reward sensitivity than introverts), as previously noted, introverts are generally more sensitive to their environment and interpersonal stimuli. "This may make introverts more likely to drink to cope with social discomfort, alleviate anxiety, or 'fit in,' Dr. Manly says.
Alcohol consumption also increases levels of dopamine, one of four feel-good hormones. And Dr. Manly notes that compared to extroverts, it's been theorized that introverts have fewer dopamine receptors making them more sensitive to dopamine. This can affect introverts positively and negatively. "While increased dopamine levels may allow an introvert to feel more excited and 'come out of their shell,' the effects of the dopamine may lead the introvert to feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and overstimulated," she says.
Moreover, Dr. Manly adds that introverts are also more emotionally and mentally sensitive. As a result, "the uncertainty and lack of control associated with alcohol use can be very anxiety-inducing before, during, and after [drinking]." So, for some introverts, she says, the psychological and physical costs may not be worth the temporary reward.
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