Opinion: We need to be more aware of neural diversity

It’s obvious that whomever wins the leadership we’re going to have to nurture a lot of new people (as well as the `old hands`.

I think it’s important that we do so working with the grain of that individual’s personality to allow it to grow for the benefit of the Party. After all, celebration of the individual is supposedly part of the Party’s DNA.

We have started to talk about mental health a lot – and rightly so. It’s a key aspect of our view that everyone should reach their own potential.

Let me introduce you to another concept: Neural Diversity.

What I mean by that is really taking into account the way an individual’s brain ACTUALLY works rather than as we think it SHOULD work. A key difference is that between a preference for Introversion and Extroversion.

Let’s explode a myth about introversion. It’s not particularly about shyness or being quiet. An introvert can dance on tables while an extrovert curls up in the corner reading a book.

The case goes that under low stimulation conditions, introverts (defined as low in Extraversion) will be more highly aroused than extraverts; however, under high stimulation, introverts may become over-aroused, which will feedback within the brain and result in decreases in arousal. Alternatively, extraverts tend to show greater increases in arousal under high stimulation

Put simply it’s about how people deal with their levels of arousal and how that’s reflected in personality. It demonstrates itself on how that person a) recharges their batteries b) searches for information and c) can indicate the sort of jobs they’d like to do either for payment or on a voluntary basis.

By way of example, I liken it to when you travel on the motorway and see one of those big radio transmitters in the distance at the side of the road. An introvert’s brain has a lot of arousal and can feel like it’s underneath the transmitter thus there’s a desire to move away from the transmitter. An extrovert consciously seeks stimulation naturally thus wants to go towards the transmitter. An introvert if over-stimulated or having taken in the energies of lots of people might `shut down` and just leave the scene if they can. An extrovert might get louder craving the stimulation. You see for an introvert it’s often an ACT OF BRAVERY to knock on doors however experienced they are at it. Always respect that bravery – just because you might not sense it it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be acknowledged

The ideal scenario is that these two people meet in the middle and work as a team for the bigger goal.

What does that mean for our party? It means taking into account that in some ways we live in an extrovertist society – where extroversion is treated as the norm. Extroverts are often the ones that speak up first and just because someone’s quiet doesn’t mean that they don’t have something important to say. At meetings its helpful for the Chair to include everybody if they feel it’s appropriate.

The main point is to check the people you have on your team and see if they are more likely to be introvert or extrovert.

Introverts will naturally gravitate towards things like data entry, learning connect, writing letters to the paper, policy work and telephone canvassing. An extrovert might want to dash out talking to people as soon as possible. The challenge for the party is to create a doorstep experience that works for both personality preference types.

The real goal is to nurture the introvert to go out knocking on doors and for the extrovert it might be a case of skills exchange ie learning Connect and finding fun ways to put on data (competitions?)

Once out in the field door there may be two different styles of equally effective canvassing.
(Remember, an extrovert gets energised from talking to people to top up their need for stimulation. An introvert’s energies might peak sooner and there’ll be a need for `quiet time` to recharge the batteries.)

Both are mutually beneficial to each other bringing on different styles to door knocking:

Extroverts may a) cover more ground as they get so excited in talking to people or b) chat a lot in a `chummy` way building up an immediate buzz yet not covering that great a distance.

Introverts may a) cover a lot of ground gaining basic yet necessary information then moving on or b) cover some ground moving on where they feel appropriate yet gaining a lot of useful and deeper information of relevance for the candidate or team.

Neither is right or wrong – it just IS. By using neural diversity properly we can advance as a party in these difficult times.

If you want to know more there are many resources including Susan Cain’s book `introverts – speaking up in a world that won’t shut up`, endless youtube videos etc and the Myers-Briggs tests that are used by many employers and organisations that help individuals determine their preferences.

Let’s value everybody and work with the grain of their personalities in a spirit of cooperation. Neural diversity – it’s as important as every other diversity!

* A Johnson is a pseudonym. The author is known to the Liberal Democrat team but wishes to remain anonymous

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jenny Barnes 10th Jul '15 - 3:06pm

    Intro v Extro version is just one of these dimensions. Myers- Briggs personality analysis designates 4 dimensions. (Of course there are many more, but these are useful:

    The last one is mostly to do with closure and timing preferences.

    So a MyersBriggs personality type would be, for example, INFJ. It’s worthwhile googling it.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 10th Jul '15 - 7:09pm

    “Let’s value everybody and work with the grain of their personalities in a spirit of cooperation. Neural diversity – it’s as important as every other diversity!”

    Thank you for posting an aspect on diversity that’s least mentioned (if at all!!) Let’s hope it’s looked at closely by the Party, because so much does depend on how one is nurtured to get the best out of co-operation.

  • Donald Smith 11th Jul '15 - 8:31am

    Good article. I’m a classic introvert although my friends have trouble believing me in that as I can seem to be outgoing. In my professional life I give lectures and conference presentations and talks to school children – and get complimented for how good I am at it. Yet, I have done a lot of canvassing but knocking on a stranger’s door still frightens me. I hate taking to strangers in public. I would rathe spend a whole day stuffing envelopes that be out on the street campaigning. Give me data to enter or analyse and I’m insanely happy. If I do speak to loads of folk on the campaign trail then I badly need down time, away from people, on my own to recharge my batteries. I have stood as a local council candidate now 7 times and each time I wonder why. It’s way too stressful.

    I wouldn’t look at Myers-Briggs – heavily used in the USA but has very little academic backing. Academics tend to find some evidence instead for the Big Five model – extravert, agreeable, conscientious, stable and open to experience or the opposite of all these.

  • Jenny Barnes 11th Jul '15 - 8:36am

    ” extravert, agreeable, conscientious, stable and open to experience or the opposite of all these.”
    Introvert, disagreeable, flighty, unstable and closed”? Hardly neutral descriptions, are they?

  • I think we also need to have more respect for a diversity of viewpoints. There are not simply three or four rigid ways of looking at the world. I happen to be against all-women shortlists and got a bit battered recently on Twitter by a few Lib Dems because of it (I feel it is patronising to women). If Lib Dems will not tolerate any diversity of views then we will become an intolerant and introverted camp that is not attractive to voters. We need to be life-affirming not life-denying and be big enough to disagree respectfully about matters – otherwise being a Lib Dem will become like being in a straight-jacket – the very opposite of what it is to be liberal and free.

  • I clicked on this hoping to see an article saying we should embrace diversity along the ASD spectrum. I think it is vitally important that those of us with ASD are recognised as not people with something WRONG with us, just different

    Imagine my disappointment, then, to find something peddling long debunked myths about society being geared to extraversion and nary a mention of actual neurotype diversity.

    You know how lots of people on the left say the BBC is right-biased, and lots of people on the right say it’s left biased, and the truth is that on the left-right axis at least the BBC is pretty central?

    Society is just as biased against the visibly extraverted as it is against the visibly introverted. You are right to call for embracing diversity, but we don’t do that by pulling the introvert-extravert Overton window more towards the introverted, but by making the window bigger, and both introverts AND extraverted being considerate of each other.

  • Judy: I’m very much against AWS too – you’re not alone in that at all.

  • Thanks very much Jennie. It’s easy to feel a bit isolated if one doesn’t agree with some key LD policies. I think that is why we have trouble attracting women in the first place.

    But I shouldn’t digress from the key theme of the article. People are who they are – genetically as much as anything else – and should be accepted as such. I think in our increasingly ‘standardised’ world, dissent is difficult and so is difference.

    But we shouldn’t easily fall into the trap of labeling people either. Labels tend to disempower people and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And to assess people’s personality, with a view to deciding what jobs to give them in a campaigns team, is a bit too calculating for my liking. Let people decide what they want to do!

  • Judy: indeed. Celebrating difference and enabling people to do what they like sounds like a v liberal thing to do to me.

  • Donald Smith 11th Jul '15 - 3:49pm

    Jenny and Judy, I hope I’m not missing something. The way I read the article was as a please for what you are asking for – greater tolerance for all personality types and characters. Everyone has a place in the party, and a role to play. For some of us the obvious roles, or roles were are pushed towards, are ones that are uncomfortable for us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them or that other work we chose does not have value.

    I agree that labelling people can by unhealthy but it can also highlight characteristics that need addressing. We are not all the same, we are all different – and yet all equal. I am happy to be labelled an introvert as this what I am, but I demand the same respect as someone who is extrovert, and accept that most people lie somehwere between these two extremes.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 5:21pm

    The founders of Facebook were punished by their university for publishing pictures of female undergraduates without their permission.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 5:36pm

    “Introverts will naturally gravitate towards things like data entry, learning connect, writing letters to the paper, policy work and telephone canvassing. ”
    “An extrovert might want to dash out talking to people as soon as possible. The challenge for the party is to create a doorstep experience that works for both personality preference types.”

    Telephone canvassing can involve leaving messages on the answering services of people whom you do not know well, or at all.” There is therefore little, or no, immediate reaction to the message.
    Which personality type is better at assessing the quality of the data to be entered into Connect?

  • Interesting article. Making use of diversity, no matter how it is described, is vital to how we as Lib Dems, both as a party and as individuals, must operate. However, I personally do not like the term ‘neural diversity’ because to me it smacks of unnecessary jargon.

    I have been using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for almost 40 years and whilst the article includes some useful points in relation to Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I), Jenny Barnes is absolutely right to point out that E/I is only one of four dimensions of the MBTI. Taking into consideration only one of the dimensions may, in fact, cause more harm than good.

    Donald: The MBTI has been used in the UK since 1975 and there is a vast amount of research, both academic and practical, to show its value as a means by which people discover more about themselves. In fact, it is the most popular and most researched personality indicator in the world. One of the co-creators, Isabel Myers, said in 1979, just before she died, “I dream that long after I’m gone, my work will go on helping people” and that is precisely what the MBTI aims to do.

    Judy and Jennie: Just to reassure you, no matter what the reason for using it, the MBTI (or other such resources) should never be used to label people. I have spent the best part of 40 years encouraging people NOT to label others. Anyone who uses labels will stifle people and make assumptions, often false ones, because they are typecasting rather than letting people be themselves. A simple ‘let people decide what they want to do’ approach could miss one of the key points of the article which is that the party needs to nurture and make the most of new members. Assessments can help in this – not to decide what job to give someone but rather to help people understand and make the most of themselves which in turn will help them decide what they want to do – or aspire to do!

    One of the concepts I have always used throughout my career working with people is ‘making constructive use of difference’. We are all unique, and we must make use of the positives that come with respecting differences. Personality assessments such as the MBTI can help people to understand themselves and to understand and appreciate others.

    I hope that as LDs we will always celebrate and make the most of our differences – whatever they are. If not, then perhaps we need to take a very close look at how we deal with diversity.

  • @Jim.Thank you for explaining your thoughts, but I still do not believe that people joining the party would particularly want to be analysed in this way. It is good leadership and well-researched and well-argued policies that will help the Lib Dems most. ‘Making the most of’ different personality types is not really going to be a key factor in my opinion. That is just my personal view though.

  • Donald: the article starts from a fundamental misconception that extroverts are somehow lauded and introverts ignored. It is simply not true. It continues with many other misconceptions and gross generalisations about what both types are and are not good at. If you are calling for tolerance, you should IMHO at least get your facts right.

  • James Brough 12th Jul '15 - 10:19am

    I’m just rather bewildered at the idea that an introvert will naturally gravitate to telephone canvassing. Why on earth would you think someone introverted would be attracted to cold calling complete strangers and attempting to engage them in conversation about their political beliefs?

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 12th Jul '15 - 4:41pm

    “All affects of nature are only the mathematical consequences of a small number of immutable laws.” ~ Pierre-Simon Laplace

    So it stands to reason, generally, that as there are mathematical gross generalizations there can be linguistic ones also which define our world on proportional representations (see above quote), which can be adapted to give insights to what makes the personality of people what they are, that can give in return insight to human action. How engaging to try and use its purpose for goodness rather than triviality.

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