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Why Aren’t You More Like Me?
The Chapter on The Power of the PSI Model
The Reticular Activating System(RAS)
Part Two of Two
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The Reticular Activating System(RAS)
The Reticular Activating System (RAS)
To better appreciate the power of Extroversion and Introversion, it is helpful to understand the biological basis. It is impossible for humans to be active without a normally functioning nervous system because that is the main communications network from the brain to the other parts of the body.
The central nervous system contains all the nerve networks within the brain and the spinal cord. The brain is the command center for the body; the spinal cord acts as a “superhighway” from the brain to the various parts of your body.
The peripheral nervous system contains the nerves that are not located within the brain and the spinal cord. This system is responsible for transmitting information from the body—the muscles, glands, sensory organs, and so on—to the central nervous system and back again.
Every day, electrochemical messages sent from the brain stimulate millions of activities within the body. In turn, the brain receives millions of messages from the body.
The reticular activating system is a bundle of nerve fibers at the base of the brain stem. RAS is believed to be one of the major reasons that Personal Style differences exist.
People react and are motivated differently by environmental stimuli, depending upon the extent of the reticular activation they experience.
The important influence of these different levels of arousal on styles of behavior is described by W. P. Blitchington.
In fact, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert depends largely
In short, environmental factors that stimulate one person to act in a certain manner may not affect another person to behave in the same way, because of developmental or temperamental differences in their reticular activating systems.
An assembly of individual sensory neurons (nerve cells) within the brain stem, the RAS is essential to the central nervous system because it stimulates people to be engaged (whether asleep or awake) and to pay attention to and concentrate on what is occurring within the environment around them.
Dr. David Meyers, Professor of Psychology at Hope College, described it this way.
Inside the brain stem, extending from the spinal cord right up into the thalamus, is a finger-sized network of neurons called the reticular activating system (also called the reticular formation). Most of the spinal cord axons of sensory neurons travel up to the thalamus. Along the way, some of them branch off to the adjacent reticular system.
Thus, when sensory stimulation occurs, the reticular system is activated. The reticular system transmits information about its state to the cerebral cortex, which in turn arouses the brain. Under the influence of the cortex, the reticular system controls not only arousal but attention.
Some individuals are more sensitive to environmental stimuli and therefore shy away from becoming overly involved in the environment (Introverts), while others are less sensitive and tend to seek out environmental stimuli to maintain active levels of interest (Extroverts). All individuals try to shift their behaviors to the environment in such a way as to increase their level of comfort and to decrease their level of discomfort.
The reticular activating system also affects individual attention levels. Introverts, being overly sensitive to the environment, pay more attention to weaker stimuli (less intense), often withdrawing from stronger stimuli (more intense), which tend to overpower them. That could be why introverts sometimes tend to magnify, distort, and “overreact” to experiences that are intense and/or stressful.
In contrast, extroverts—less sensitive to what is occurring around them—tend to become disinterested with weaker stimuli; they pay closer attention to, and are more motivated by, intensity.
Extroverts sometimes have a tendency to “underreact” to situations where there is not enough stress or stimulation. Thus, extroverts and introverts often prefer different activities, physical surroundings, and even friends or associates, due to their personal level of sensitivity and response to environmental stimuli.
There are strong suggestions that introverts have more nerve fibers in their RAS than extroverts do, so they take in more data or input from the same event. Metaphorically speaking, the introverts Interpersonal HARMONY and Cognitive ANALYSIS have a bigger radar disk meaning they take in more information and stimulus than the extroverts Behavioral ACTION and Affective EXPRESSION. Therefore, introverts are collecting more information in any given moment in time. That also explains the behavioral differences between the two ends of the continuum.
What happens when the hard drive of a computer becomes full? It shuts down or fails. That’s what occurs to introverts when stimuli overwhelm their system; they personally cannot take any more input. Their physical body actually feels burdened and breaks down (unable to function normally) with a given amount of stimulus. They must retreat to reduce additional input.
On the opposite side, extroverts (BA) are wondering what the problem is. They can go another few hours and still have space for additional input; their radar disk is smaller (taken in less stimulus) so the stimuli are not overwhelming their system.
One other very important behavioral difference between extroversion and introversion is what we call sit-ability. Extroverts (BA) have far less sit-ability than introverts (IC). What we mean by sit-ability is the body’s capacity to stay stationary for a certain amount of time. Extroverts cannot sit still for very long or they will feel they might even crawl out of their skin. They have to fidget and get up to move. If you expect an extrovert to stay glued to his work station for hours or a student to his desk, forget it.
On the opposite end, introverts have far more capability to stay stationary and not have to move.
The dynamic of an individual’s extroversion and introversion shows up in life every single day. If you are the parent of an extroverted child and you give him instructions to sit still and not move, what does he do 5 seconds after you turn your back? The extrovert must stay active. With a highly introverted child, you can check back in a few minutes to find he has not moved from that space on the carpet where you left him.
In work situations, highly extroverted individuals must get up from their desk on a frequent basis. Supervisors who want those individuals to stay put are not making a reasonable request. On the other hand, extroverts must take responsibility for the impact of their behavior. If it is disruptive to others, that is not okay.
Years ago, in my all-day workshops, I learned to give permission at the beginning of a session that it is okay to get up any time during the seminar to stretch, grab a coffee, or whatever, as long as it is not a distraction to the class. The result was a comfortable learning environment for everyone; I was not getting bent out of shape when participants needed to move their bodies. My goal is learning, not class compliance.
Ironically, in my opinion, one of the environments that least acknowledges the different Personal Styles and learning styles is education—all the way from grade school to university.
If I were to ask you who best fits the compliant, sit-still, don’t move, be quiet education model, would you say extroverts or introverts? Introverts, of course! They let the environment tell them what to do and they have natural sit-ability.
Although I cite some examples of learning style in this book, it will be a topic for a future book—Why Don’t You Teach The Way That I Learn?™
I am a past chair of a school board and my wife is a teacher. We constantly see that individual differences are not honored in today’s education system. If educators understood the PSI Model and applied the information in this book, the success rate of students would dramatically increase and the frustrations of learners and teachers alike would decrease.
Understanding extroversion and introversion differences is foundational to any intentional behavior, life choice, interaction with others, and even the career you will select or have already chosen.
In Part Three, I will explain the influence of the two other continuums of the PSI Model on Non-Verbal and Verbal and People and Tasks.
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