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  • What an intriguing group of individuals you are ...

  • to a psychologist.

  • (Laughter)

  • I've had the opportunity over the last couple of days

  • of listening in on some of your conversations

  • and watching you interact with each other.

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

  • that there are 47 people in this audience,

  • at this moment,

  • displaying psychological symptoms I would like to discuss today.

  • (Laughter)

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

  • (Laughter)

  • But instead of pointing at you,

  • which would be gratuitous and intrusive,

  • I thought I would tell you a few facts and stories,

  • in which you may catch a glimpse of yourself.

  • I'm in the field of research known as personality psychology,

  • which is part of a larger personality science

  • which spans the full spectrum, from neurons to narratives.

  • And what we try to do,

  • in our own way,

  • is to make sense of how each of us --

  • each of you --

  • is, in certain respects,

  • like all other people,

  • like some other people

  • and like no other person.

  • Now, already you may be saying of yourself,

  • "I'm not intriguing.

  • I am the 46th most boring person in the Western Hemisphere."

  • Or you may say of yourself,

  • "I am intriguing,

  • even if I am regarded by most people as a great, thundering twit."

  • (Laughter)

  • But it is your self-diagnosed boringness and your inherent "twitiness"

  • that makes me, as a psychologist, really fascinated by you.

  • So let me explain why this is so.

  • One of the most influential approaches in personality science

  • is known as trait psychology,

  • and it aligns you along five dimensions which are normally distributed,

  • and that describe universally held aspects of difference between people.

  • They spell out the acronym OCEAN.

  • So, "O" stands for "open to experience,"

  • versus those who are more closed.

  • "C" stands for "conscientiousness,"

  • in contrast to those with a more lackadaisical approach to life.

  • "E" -- "extroversion," in contrast to more introverted people.

  • "A" -- "agreeable individuals,"

  • in contrast to those decidedly not agreeable.

  • And "N" -- "neurotic individuals,"

  • in contrast to those who are more stable.

  • All of these dimensions have implications for our well-being,

  • for how our life goes.

  • And so we know that, for example,

  • openness and conscientiousness are very good predictors of life success,

  • but the open people achieve that success through being audacious

  • and, occasionally, odd.

  • The conscientious people achieve it through sticking to deadlines,

  • to persevering, as well as having some passion.

  • Extroversion and agreeableness are both conducive

  • to working well with people.

  • Extroverts, for example, I find intriguing.

  • With my classes, I sometimes give them a basic fact

  • that might be revealing with respect to their personality:

  • I tell them that it is virtually impossible for adults

  • to lick the outside of their own elbow.

  • (Laughter)

  • Did you know that?

  • Already, some of you have tried to lick the outside of your own elbow.

  • But extroverts amongst you

  • are probably those who have not only tried,

  • but they have successfully licked the elbow

  • of the person sitting next to them.

  • (Laughter)

  • Those are the extroverts.

  • Let me deal in a bit more detail with extroversion,

  • because it's consequential and it's intriguing,

  • and it helps us understand what I call our three natures.

  • First, our biogenic nature -- our neurophysiology.

  • Second, our sociogenic or second nature,

  • which has to do with the cultural and social aspects of our lives.

  • And third, what makes you individually you -- idiosyncratic --

  • what I call your "idiogenic" nature.

  • Let me explain.

  • One of the things that characterizes extroverts is they need stimulation.

  • And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting:

  • loud noises, parties and social events here at TED --

  • you see the extroverts forming a magnetic core.

  • They all gather together.

  • And I've seen you.

  • The introverts are more likely to spend time in the quiet spaces

  • up on the second floor,

  • where they are able to reduce stimulation --

  • and may be misconstrued as being antisocial,

  • but you're not necessarily antisocial.

  • It may be that you simply realize that you do better

  • when you have a chance to lower that level of stimulation.

  • Sometimes it's an internal stimulant, from your body.

  • Caffeine, for example, works much better with extroverts than it does introverts.

  • When extroverts come into the office at nine o'clock in the morning

  • and say, "I really need a cup of coffee,"

  • they're not kidding --

  • they really do.

  • Introverts do not do as well,

  • particularly if the tasks they're engaged in --

  • and they've had some coffee --

  • if those tasks are speeded,

  • and if they're quantitative,

  • introverts may give the appearance of not being particularly quantitative.

  • But it's a misconstrual.

  • So here are the consequences that are really quite intriguing:

  • we're not always what seem to be,

  • and that takes me to my next point.

  • I should say, before getting to this,

  • something about sexual intercourse,

  • although I may not have time.

  • And so, if you would like me to --

  • yes, you would?

  • OK.

  • (Laughter)

  • There are studies done

  • on the frequency with which individuals engage in the conjugal act,

  • as broken down by male, female; introvert, extrovert.

  • So I ask you:

  • How many times per minute --

  • oh, I'm sorry, that was a rat study --

  • (Laughter)

  • How many times per month

  • do introverted men engage in the act?

  • 3.0.

  • Extroverted men?

  • More or less?

  • Yes, more.

  • 5.5 -- almost twice as much.

  • Introverted women: 3.1.

  • Extroverted women?

  • Frankly, speaking as an introverted male,

  • which I will explain later --

  • they are heroic.

  • 7.5.

  • They not only handle all the male extroverts,

  • they pick up a few introverts as well.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • We communicate differently, extroverts and introverts.

  • Extroverts, when they interact,

  • want to have lots of social encounter punctuated by closeness.

  • They'd like to stand close for comfortable communication.

  • They like to have a lot of eye contact,

  • or mutual gaze.

  • We found in some research

  • that they use more diminutive terms when they meet somebody.

  • So when an extrovert meets a Charles,

  • it rapidly becomes "Charlie," and then "Chuck,"

  • and then "Chuckles Baby."

  • (Laughter)

  • Whereas for introverts,

  • it remains "Charles," until he's given a pass to be more intimate

  • by the person he's talking to.

  • We speak differently.

  • Extroverts prefer black-and-white, concrete, simple language.

  • Introverts prefer -- and I must again tell you

  • that I am as extreme an introvert as you could possibly imagine --

  • we speak differently.

  • We prefer contextually complex,

  • contingent,

  • weasel-word sentences --

  • (Laughter)

  • More or less.

  • (Laughter)

  • As it were.

  • (Laughter)

  • Not to put too fine a point upon it --

  • like that.

  • When we talk,

  • we sometimes talk past each other.

  • I had a consulting contract I shared with a colleague

  • who's as different from me as two people can possibly be.

  • First, his name is Tom.

  • Mine isn't.

  • (Laughter)

  • Secondly, he's six foot five.

  • I have a tendency not to be.

  • (Laughter)

  • And thirdly, he's as extroverted a person as you could find.

  • I am seriously introverted.

  • I overload so much,

  • I can't even have a cup of coffee after three in the afternoon

  • and expect to sleep in the evening.

  • We had seconded to this project a fellow called Michael.

  • And Michael almost brought the project to a crashing halt.

  • So the person who seconded him asked Tom and me,

  • "What do you make of Michael?"

  • Well, I'll tell you what Tom said in a minute.

  • He spoke in classic "extrovert-ese."

  • And here is how extroverted ears heard what I said,

  • which is actually pretty accurate.

  • I said, "Well Michael does have 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 rolled his eyes and he said,

  • "Brian, that's what I said:

  • he's an asshole!"

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Now, as an introvert,

  • I might gently allude to certain "assholic" qualities

  • in this man's behavior,

  • but I'm not going to lunge for the a-word.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the extrovert says,

  • "If he walks like one, if he talks like one, I call him one."

  • And we go past each other.

  • Now is this something that we should be heedful of?

  • Of course.

  • It's important that we know this.

  • Is that all we are?

  • Are we just a bunch of traits?

  • No, we're not.

  • Remember, you're like some other people

  • and like no other person.

  • How about that idiosyncratic you?

  • As Elizabeth or as George,

  • you may share your extroversion or your neuroticism.

  • But are there some distinctively Elizabethan features of your behavior,

  • or Georgian of yours,

  • that make us understand you better than just a bunch of traits?

  • That make us love you?

  • Not just because you're a certain type of person.

  • I'm uncomfortable putting people in pigeonholes.

  • I don't even think pigeons belong in pigeonholes.

  • So what is it that makes us different?

  • It's the doings that we have in our life -- the personal projects.

  • You have a personal project right now,

  • but nobody may know it here.

  • It relates to your kid --

  • you've been back three times to the hospital,

  • and they still don't know what's wrong.

  • Or it could be your mom.

  • And you'd been acting out of character.

  • These are free traits.

  • You're very agreeable, but you act disagreeably

  • in order to break down those barriers of administrative torpor

  • in the hospital,

  • to get something for your mom or your child.

  • What are these free traits?

  • They're where we enact a script

  • in order to advance a core project in our lives.

  • And they are what matters.

  • Don't ask people what type you are;

  • ask them, "What are your core projects in your life?"

  • And we enact those free traits.