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  • Good morning.

  • What an intriguing group of individuals you are!

  • To a psychologist. (Laughter)

  • I've had the opportunity, in the last forty-six minutes,

  • to listen in on some of your conversations --

  • inadvertantly, of course --

  • and to observe you interacting with each other,

  • and I think it's fair to say, already,

  • that there are nineteen people,

  • in this audience, at this moment,

  • showing psychological symptoms

  • I'd like to discuss this morning. (Laughter)

  • And I thought you might like to know who you are.

  • But instead of pointing at you,

  • which would be gratuitous and intrusive,

  • I thought what I would do is give you a simple fact.

  • Did you know that it is virtually impossible

  • for adults to lick the outside of their own elbows?

  • And did you know... (Laughter)

  • that how you responded and acted upon that piece of information

  • probably gives us a piece of information

  • about your personality?

  • For example, some of you have already tried to lick your elbows.

  • (Laughter) And I'm afraid some of you may have dislocated

  • something in the process.

  • Some of you have demurred.

  • Some of you have strongly demurred.

  • And some of you have not only tried to lick your own elbow;

  • you've successfully licked the elbow

  • of the person sitting next to you. (Laughter)

  • What gives rise to these wonderful differences in personality?

  • That's what we study in our field with personality psychology,

  • or, more broadly considered, personality science.

  • And within that field,

  • one very influential stream of thought

  • suggests that these arise out of big five traits.

  • And the big five traits

  • that have been discovered in research

  • over the last couple of decades,

  • can be thought of in terms of an acronym, OCEAN,

  • where "O" stands for "Openness",

  • "C" for "Conscientiousness",

  • "E" for "Extroversion",

  • "A" for "Agreeableness"

  • and "N" for "Neuroticism".

  • And I'm not going to focus upon neuroticism.

  • So, don't worry.

  • I am going to focus, however, upon extroversion.

  • This has received a great deal of buzz

  • in the last couple of years.

  • I'm sure many of you are familiar with Susan Cain's TEDTalk

  • and with her book "Quiet".

  • And the first confession I wish to make today

  • is that, in chapter seven of Cain's book, Quiet,

  • she alludes to this strange little Canadian professor,

  • who had lectured at Harvard,

  • who was seen by his students as extremely extroverted,

  • but, in fact, was known to hide from them

  • in the men's room, after lectures.

  • And I must confess that his name was incredibly,

  • serendipitously, the same as mine, (Laughter)

  • Brian Little.

  • Let me explain a little bit about the dimension of extroversion.

  • And to do that, I'm just going to take advantage

  • of one diagram that I will animate

  • and ask you a question about, in a minute.

  • When we became mammals,

  • we developed a part of the brain

  • known as the neocortex -- "neo" means "new"

  • and "cortex" means "roof".

  • So, the neocortex is the "new roof" of the brain,

  • accreted to, or added on to the paleocortex,

  • or the "old roof" of the brain.

  • And one of the functions of the neocortex

  • is to allow us to think before acting,

  • to prognosticate before engaging in mere behavior.

  • But, in order for the neocortex to function properly,

  • it needs to be aroused or activated

  • up to an optimal level of arousal.

  • Now, too high a level of arousal

  • means that you're just revving too high.

  • And it's dysfunctional in terms of carrying out

  • our everyday projects and tasks.

  • In fact, I might even be able to highlight this here.

  • Up here is not really the best place to be,

  • in terms of your arousal level.

  • Nor is down there.

  • Here, you're soaring unduly.

  • Here, you're at risk for snoring.

  • You're under the optimal level.

  • Now, let me ask you: who do you think

  • is most at risk in this audience,

  • in the Cambridge Union, at this moment,

  • of falling asleep?

  • It may surprise you to know

  • that it is, in fact, the extroverts, because, chronically,

  • extroverts are under the optimal level of arousal

  • necessary to carry out their tasks and projects effectively.

  • And, consequently, they need to extrovert themselves,

  • they need to seek stimulation,

  • they need to engage with people.

  • And that is why they will act the way they do,

  • and we can spot it in their everyday behavior.

  • I'll give you some examples in a moment.

  • Introverts, contrastingly,

  • are over that optimal level of arousal.

  • They need to get

  • their stimulation level down, less stimulating,

  • in order to carry out their tasks effectively.

  • And there is an optimal level of arousal right in between.

  • So, some of you who are ambiverts

  • will be more or less at that optimal level.

  • Let me give you some very practical examples.

  • I want you to imagine a car

  • containing one extrovert and one introvert,

  • driving to the Cambridge Union.

  • Typically, it's the extrovert who's driving,

  • even if it's the introvert's car. (Laughter)

  • And the reason is, to get here,

  • you get here much more quickly with an extrovert driving.

  • They actually accrue a larger number of traffic tickets.

  • (Laughter) And they need stimulation.

  • So, when they're driving, you can spot them on the motorway.

  • They move around a lot,

  • they look at other extroverts,

  • driving introverts away from Cambridge,

  • and they do not have a smartphone.

  • Extroverts have three smartphones! (Laughter)

  • And you can see them!

  • They're talking, they're answering a text message

  • they just sent themselves, (Laughter)

  • and, generally, they act in such a way

  • as to get their level of stimulation up,

  • whereas the introverts sitting next to them

  • are hoping grimly to get to Cambridge in one piece.

  • Now, that's not a zero-sum game.

  • What is a zero-sum game, though,

  • is a negotiation of the radio on the car.

  • There's a probabilistic drift, as we call it,

  • a tendency only,

  • for extroverts, when they get in the car,

  • to turn the radio up to about 110 decibels!

  • This is near the pain threshold! (Laughter)

  • So, you'll have 110 decibels of Yo-Yo Ma

  • or Miley Cyrus booming through the sound system,

  • or perhaps a mash of the two

  • with Miley twerking the cello. (Laughter)

  • And that's great for the extroverts,

  • because it gets them up to where

  • they can carry out their driving

  • and their conversational task effectively.

  • The introverts, not so much.

  • So, you see the seeds of conflict here.

  • Now, let me just give you another example.

  • We interact in different ways.

  • Extroverts, to be comfortable in interaction,

  • like to stand close,

  • like to have a lot of body contact,

  • a lot of gaze or mutual gaze.

  • We've found in some researches that extroverts

  • use more diminutive names, when they meet somebody.

  • The person you're meeting is Charles;

  • it rapidly becomes Charlie,

  • and then Chuck, and then Chuckles-baby, (Laughter)

  • whereas for introverts it remains Charles,

  • until you're given a pass to a more intimate level.

  • The interactions between them

  • can therefore be a little bit strained.

  • Also, in effect, it can give rise to a vector resolution problem,

  • because the extrovert, to be polite, moves forward;

  • the introvert, to be polite, moves backwards.

  • And they end up, again,

  • at one of these impasses caused by differences in personality.

  • We speak differently.

  • And now I have to betray something to you.

  • This is a confession.

  • I am, as my students know --

  • after I tell them --

  • an extreme introvert!

  • Off the bottom of the scale.

  • And many of you are like me.

  • We act out of character.

  • We become passionate

  • about projects that really matter to us,

  • which takes us out of our basic personality styles.

  • Let me give you an example of communication.

  • You need to know that to appreciate this.

  • I had a consulting contract I shared with a colleague,

  • who was as different from me as two people can be.

  • First, his name is Tom,

  • and mine isn't.

  • Secondly, he is 6 foot 5,

  • and I have a tendency not to be. (Laughter)

  • And thirdly, he's a card-carrying extrovert;

  • I'm certifiably introverted.

  • You need to know that extroverts prefer black and white,

  • concrete, simple language.

  • Introverts prefer parenthetical,

  • contextually complex, contingent, weasel-worded sentences.

  • More or less... as it were. (Laughter)

  • When we communicate, we have problems.

  • For example, this particular project that we're involved in

  • had seconded to it a person from a finance department.

  • I'll call him Michael,

  • because that was his name. (Laughter)

  • And Michael just about brought the whole thing

  • to a crashing halt.

  • And the person who seconded him asked Tom and me, both,

  • what we thought of Michael.

  • And Tom responded in classic "extropertise" --

  • I'll tell you what he said in a minute --

  • and then they said to me: "Brian, what do you think of Michael?"

  • This is how we sound to extroverted ears.

  • And so, I said, "Well, Michael has a tendency,

  • at times, of behaving in a way

  • that some of us might see as, perhaps,

  • more assertive than is normally called for." (Laughter)

  • Tom just rolled his eyes and said,

  • "Brian, that's what I said! He's an asshole!"

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, as an introvert, I might gently allude

  • to certain "assholic" qualities in this man's behaviour, (Laughter)

  • but I'm not going to lunge really "a-word".

  • But an extrovert says if he walks like one,

  • if he talks like one, I call him one,

  • and we end up passing each other in the night.

  • And we must. We must.

  • Is this all we are, then?

  • Are we simply a group of fixed traits?

  • I don't think so.

  • I'd like to invoke what I call free traits as explanations.

  • Why do we act out of character?

  • Free traits are when you invoke a social script

  • to advance a core project in your life

  • that means the world to you.

  • For example, I am passionate about professing.

  • I love my students,

  • I love my subject and I can't wait

  • to tell them about what is exciting me.

  • But it means that, in order to convey that,

  • I act extrovertedly in my lectures.

  • I don't have to, but it's entrained to the project,

  • acting like this.

  • I can't wait to convey information to you.

  • Can you do that for a period of time?

  • Of course you can!

  • It's called professionalism.

  • It's also called love.

  • You can act out of character. I'm a pseudo-extrovert.

  • You may have acted out of character

  • for some years in your life.

  • You may be a naturally extroverted person,

  • but you have acted more introvertedly for years,

  • because you love Michael.

  • Can