This Is the Scientific Explanation for Why Introverts Like Being Alone

IntrovertDear.com introverts scientific explanation alone time

As an introvert, I need plenty of quiet downtime. If I spend too much time socializing—or am just “out and about” too much in noisy stores or coffee shops—I don’t feel like myself. I get mentally drained and even physically tired. I get cranky and short with people. Every little annoyance—like a crying baby in public or having to repeat myself to my significant other—seems magnified. I fantasize about disappearing off the face of the planet for a day or two to recharge my energy.

Recent research shows that extroverts get worn out by socializing, too. So it’s not just us introverts who need to rest after chatting and meeting new people. Nevertheless, there are some real differences between introverts and extroverts. On average, introverts really do prefer solitude more than extroverts, and extroverts are more driven to engage in social interactions that elevate their social attention and status (more about this later).


So, scientifically speaking, why do introverts need more solitude than extroverts? The answer is found in the wiring of our brains.

Introverts Respond Differently to Rewards

One of the reasons introverts enjoy alone time has to do with how introverts respond to rewards. Rewards are things like money, sex, social status, social affiliation, and even food. When you get promoted at work or convince an attractive stranger to give you his or her phone number, you’re gaining a reward.

Of course, introverts care about things like earning money, eating, and having relationships, too. But  researchers hypothesize that introverts respond differently than extroverts to rewards. When compared to extroverts, introverts are less engaged, motivated, and energized by the possibilities for rewards around them. So, they talk less, are less driven, and experience less enthusiasm. In fact, they may find levels of stimulation that are rewarding and energizing for extroverts to be tiring or annoying.

What makes introverts less motivated by rewards? It was to do with a chemical found in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. It enables us to notice rewards and take action to move toward them, and it reduces the “cost of effort,” meaning, it increases how much a person is willing to work for the possible reward.

According to Colin DeYoung, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota who recently published a paper on introversion, extroverts appear to have a more active dopamine reward system than introverts. This means that extroverts’ brains become more active at the sight of a possible reward, and dopamine energizes them to pursue that reward. Introverts’ brains just don’t get as active as extroverts’ at the expectation of a reward.


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 Why Introverts Enjoy Alone Time

Thinking about introversion in terms of rewards makes sense. Because introverts care less about obtaining rewards, we’re less motivated to do things that extroverts find immediately rewarding, such as socializing. DeYoung told me:

“Introverts are indeed often drained by socializing, but that’s partly because the effort required may not seem worth it because the rewards from socializing seem less to them. Extroverts get drained by socializing too, but they are more motivated to engage in it anyway, and it probably takes more socializing before they start to feel drained. Anything that involves expenditure of energy will be draining eventually.”

To fully understand what DeYoung is saying, imagine two friends—one an extrovert, the other an introvert—at a house party on a Saturday night. They’re crammed in a small room with thirty other people. Loud music blasts from huge speakers, and a few people are playing video games on a big screen TV. Everyone is practically shouting to make their voice heard over the din. There are a dozen conversations going on at once, and a dozen things to pay attention to.

For the extrovert, this “level of stimulation” might be just right. He sees possibilities for reward everywhere—an attractive stranger across the room, potential new friends, and people who will give him the social attention he craves. He feels energized and excited to be at the party. So motivated, in fact, that he stays late into the night. He’s worn out the next day and needs some downtime to recover, but to him, the energy spent was well worth it.

The introvert, on the other hand, finds this environment tiring and punishing. It’s too loud, there are too many things to pay attention to, and all the people in the room create a dizzying buzz of activity. The introvert simply isn’t interested (to the same degree as the extrovert) in the possibility of social rewards around him. The introvert makes up an excuse and gets out of there. He heads for home, where he watches a movie with his roommate before going into his bedroom to read alone. In his own apartment, alone or with just one other person, the level of stimulation feels just right.

Extroverts Are More Stimulated by People

Finally, a recent study found that extroverts are more stimulated by seeing people but introverts paid more attention to inanimate objects. The researchers studied a group of different people and recorded the electrical activity in their brains through an EEG. As participants were shown pictures of both objects and people, the researchers evaluated their brains’ P300 activity. This activity happens when a person experiences a sudden change in their environment; it gets its name because the activity happens within 300 milliseconds. Interestingly, researchers found that extroverts who saw pictures of flowers and faces achieved the P300 response from viewing the images of faces, while the introverts only had the P300 response from pictures of flowers. This doesn’t mean that introverts dislike people, but what it could mean is extroverts place more significance on people than introverts do.

 Are You Getting Enough Alone Time?

As an introvert, it can be hard to get enough alone time. You may feel guilty when you decline a social invitation or tell your significant other you want a night to yourself. However, not getting enough alone time can affect you physically and emotionally. According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in her book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World, you may not be getting enough alone time if you regularly experience some of these symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Frequent colds, headaches, back pains, or allergies
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, irritable, and “snappish”
  • Unable to think, concentrate, or make decisions
  • Confused and discombobulated, as if you are dashing from thing to thing in a blur
  • Trapped and wondering what is the meaning of life
  • Drained, tired, and put-upon
  • Disconnected from yourself

What should you do? Make it a priority to include downtime in your day, even if it’s only 30 minutes of relaxing in your bedroom. Your introverted brain demands it!

Did you enjoy this article? You can learn more about the science behind introversion in Jenn Granneman’s upcoming book, “The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World.” It will be available in bookstores and on Amazon in August of 2017.  retina_favicon1

Read this: I Wasn’t Living My Life Until I Learned to Stay Home

Image credit: Shutterstock/Carlos Amarillo



45 Comments

  • This is so very true. And it’s hard to explain this to someone that’s extroverted. My boyfriend is very extroverted, and I think sometimes he gets perturbed that I just want to spend a Sunday at home, in our room, watching Netflix and not speaking to anyone. It’s like, it just blows his mind.

    • Sara says:

      i have to have my Netflix days, too! When I had a boyfriend, he would go ride bikes and drink beer with his buddies and always wonder why I didn’t want to go. Uh…because I need to be alone, hello….

  • Sheril says:

    Thank you so much for these articles. They tend to be spot on descriptions of my behavior.

    However, I think a trap into which we introverts tend to fall (because we spend so much time inside our heads), is to focus so much on ourselves that we leave little time/space for others. So, just as we expect our extrovert loved ones to make allowances for us that are outside of their nature, we too should be expected to do the same, no matter how painful it may seem. The give and take is definitely necessary

    • thank you for sharing that Sheril! After reading this I had an epiphany of how insensitive I have treated my best friend…however it IS important for introverts to see the extroverts pain and loneliness when they don’t want to talk or socialize.

    • Taylor says:

      You said it perfectly Sheril! That is exactly true! I’ve been so closed off from other people and I feel bad about it, I love my family and friends, but I fall in the “trap” very seldomly and when I do its hard to break from it.

  • Larswife says:

    I’ve spent most of my life experiencing one or more of the signs listed above. I always knew I was different from so many friends and family members. Now I know why. Thank you.

  • Bill says:

    Thanks for all your work on this site, Jenn. I’m only a recent member of your Facebook group and find it a great source of information and links. After more than 6 decades as an Introvert I’m pretty comfortable now with my world. Once you realize we are just different to the others and are not in any way inferior to extroverts it becomes easier. Like most of life, personality is paradoxical – your greatest strengths are also your greatest weaknesses and vice versa. As pointed out in recent books like Susan’s it takes both types to be successful. I enjoy my alone time but one of my greatest enjoyments in life to to spend time with one other person (at a time) in a deep friend relationship. This has proven difficult to do with more than a couple of close family members throughout my life. I haven’t quite got to the bottom of why this is the case but I think it’s biological at it’s core. Anyway, I digress. I chose this article to comment on mostly because I love Rona’s photo (I’m and amateur photographer) Thank You!

  • Thank you for these articles, they describe me to a T. I’ve always wished I was more outgoing, it’s been so difficult trying to change me, 50years trying to change me. I’m should just
    retire from change. And accept me as God made me.

  • GG says:

    Most of the traits of introvert apply to me, but not all. So I find myself trying to live my life in two worlds. I have 5 kids and 4 of them are introverts. I spend most of my time with my 13 grandkids (I call them my kiddos) but at a certain point I need to go home, sleep and be by my self. People even my friends don’t understand. This website has helped me understand why I do what I do. Most people think I’m weird. Thank you for helping me learn more about myself and know I’m ok.

  • I have only recently started reading “Introvert, Dear.” Everything I have read is an exact description of me!! I am amazed. Finally, I don’t feel so abnormal and like something is wrong with me. Thank you so much, Jenn, for starting this site.

  • Wow! What a great read. People think I am an extrovert because I’m so gregarious. That is a learned trait. I was very shy growing up, unless I knew someone well. Even though I’ve learned to be more outgoing, people think I’m fruity because I’ll often go off somewhere during a party and sit quietly by myself, or even fall asleep. I’m sharing this!

  • Kristy says:

    So question-what are some tips for the extrovert wife/introvert husband relationship?

  • Regan says:

    Great article! Just a little difficult to see the professionalism in it when “extravert” is constantly misspelled. 😉 I totally relate, though. As an introverted mom, it gets difficult to give my children my all when I don’t have any time to myself to recharge. Everything becomes ridiculously exhausting and I either get snappish or I hide myself mentally. :/

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Just to clarify, “extravert” is typically the spelling used in psychology textbooks, while “extrovert” is more often used by the media, but both spellings are correct.

  • Mel says:

    Why do people do the type of bullying called gangstalking to certain people and not others? Why do some or most kids stop and stare at certain people for no apparent reason?

  • Hudson says:

    How about the fact that I am so disappointed in people around me that I don’t want to be with them for long? I am related to them so I can’t leave or quit! It’s like I am an ATM machine that keeps being used to ‘withdraw’ and never receives a ‘deposit’.

  • […] PS: If now YOU are confused to why I felt so bad during that job, try reading this to understand about introverts and the need to be alone sometimes. http://introvertdear.com/2015/07/14/introverts-alone-time-science-marti-olsen-laney/ […]

  • […] Oh my goodness, yes.  Let’s end the guilt, introverts. […]

  • […] of introverts and extraverts. If you’d like to read a bit more on that (it’s very fascinating), this blog post gives an excellent overview, and one of the books referenced, The Introvert Advantage, by Dr. Marti […]

  • I LOVE my time alone in my home. I can be myself, not talk to anyone. I work retail so I am forced to talk and be “up” all day. I can spend hours putzing around, cleaning, just staring out the window. It’s the only time I feel alive.

  • Thanks for the article, well done. I wonder what it means when I sometimes feel I am both introverted and extroverted. I have elements of both. It’s a strange balancing act.

  • Lauren says:

    I can spend weeks without leaving my house or picking up the phone. I’m happiest as an introvert.

  • p.bijili says:

    i feel that i wanted to alone always.. And i will feel some times only happy why for me like that

  • Shahyzy says:

    I love being alone recalling memories. But there are times I was forced to put on an extrovert mask which I kinda hate.

  • May have to show this to my best friend so she can see why I didn’t talk to her today. Maybe then she won’t get butt hurt. Probably will because I didn’t give her any attention, but I needed a day to myself. I’ve been so easily annoyed lately, mentally exhausted, I don’t even bother explaining my point lately ’cause I just haven’t had the energy for it.

  • This article describes me to a “T”. Like you I need that precious, restorative alone time every weekend. The need intensifies when I have to do creative work for my job or on my personal projects. There is a spiritual component to retreat, seclusion and solitude. It can be very hard for extroverts to understand this need but it’s up to each of us to plainly state them and then let it fall where it may. To deny one’s own needs and live up to someone else’s idea of how often you should see them or get out is to give up control of your time. Eventually you cease to exist and become a shell moving through space surrounded by people but too tired and overwhelmed to relate to the activities in any substantial way.

  • Guest says:

    This seems to describe my feelings really well. I spend a lot of time alone and find it helps to keep me calmer.

  • […] honest – Because I tend to think a lot and process responses over time, I’m one of those people who will return to a conversation long after […]

  • Carl says:

    “According to Laney, you may not be getting enough alone time if you regularly experience some of these symptoms”
    Every single symptom is being experienced. xD
    Alone time asap please..

  • […] Read this: Here’s the Scientific Explanation for Why Introverts Like Being Alone […]

  • I can relate so much. I have to have my alone time and lots of it. I can easily spend 4-5 days alone in my home without going out at all. When I have to meet people and be social, I’m always anxious and nervous. I have only a few friends and I like to keep it like that. Most of friends know about my introvert side and respect it. Boyfriends sometimes don’t understand. It’s hard to keep a boyfriend unless he is like me. 😉

  • […] to us, such as writing, reading, gaming, etc. There’s a scientific explanation for this: our brains are wired to make us feel good when we turn inward and concentrate, according to Dr. Laney. This good feeling […]

  • Violet says:

    Been having issues with my boyfriend on him wanting so much alone time…really helped

  • […] is dopamine, which rewards you for pursuing external rewards. Introverts’ brains are far less driven by dopamine. We don’t get the buzz from it that extroverts do, so we don’t seek as much external […]

  • […] Read this: Here’s the Scientific Explanation for Why Introverts Like Being Alone […]

  • I wish I could have alone time. But with 3 roommates, a bf, a toddler and a 3 mo old puppy, it’s just not feasible. I can’t wait till we can afford to live alone and for my daughter to have her own room. My anxiety is sky high and has been since we have had to rent rooms.

  • Cosy Lights says:

    I just want to say thank you for this wonderful web site!

  • Molly says:

    It is really, really hard (sometimes impossible) to get the much needed alone time when you work full time, are married and have kids. Today I felt really bad all day, and then I found this article and remembered who I am, the introvert who hasn’t had any alone time in weeks. Thank you for your help.

  • Lee says:

    Thank you for this article. A lot of the information I’ve been finding on the Introvert has been helpful. I’ve been dating an introvert for a year. We have consistently struggled over his alone time. My problem is that we only try to see each other twice a week and about every other week he pulls his alone time bafoonary at the last minute. I’m empathetic, but I call it bafoonary because he has 5 or more days to be alone and recharge. In addition, there are enough other valid reason that we can’t see each other thrown in there, like family functions, out of town work, etc. It took almost 10 months for him to tell me he loves me and I’m having a difficult time believing it to be true. My Search on the web has been to find information or tools for the extrovert in these relationships. Our relationship is totally based on his mood and what he needs. The past few months, when I do see him, I cook dinner and we watch TV. I can’t help but feel butt hurt every couple of weeks. I can’t comprehend him choosing alone time over me. It would be different if we lived together, but we see each other two evenings a week if I’m lucky. Here is the bottom line. Say we are planning to see each other on Friday night, We is sexting me on Wednesday, Thursday he can’t wait to see me. Friday I get up early for work and pack my overnight bag. I’m excited!! I haven’t seen my man since last Sunday! Then Boom, I get the text message at 4pm, that he needs his alone time tonight because it’s been a long week………BAFOONARY!! Now, I have no plans for Friday night and I’m soooo disappointed and let down that I don’t feel like going out either. I recently told him that I’m going back to my pre-relationship social schedule and let him try to fit in where he can.

    • Lee, it sounds more like a commitment issue on his end. If he keeps cancelling on you, then he didn’t do a good job of planning his own down time. As an introvert, if I know that I’m going to be social, then I schedule some down time before and after, so I can honor my commitment. Being introverted is not an excuse for being flaky.

  • thanks for the article that is what i deal with a a lot

  • Mark says:

    Very well said! I relate! Thanks!

  • Heather says:

    To those who said that us introverts need to make more allowances for extroverts- what about all the years (since young childhood) of people telling us we are wrong, different, need to change, etc, etc?

    How are those extroverts making allowances for us? I think we make enough allowances, especially when society brainwashes us into thinking that only one personality type is ‘right’.

    And for those with kids who can’t get alone time, well that is one of the BIG reasons (along with noise, chaos, cost, etc) that I am child-free and plan to remain that way. A life with no quiet and no alone time would be worse than anything else to me.

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