Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Awkward Social Personality

This past week while on vacation up in the Lanzhou area I was surrounded by many different personalities. I got to speak a little French. I got to speak a LOT of speed English. I met a lot of new people from all over the world plus got to know some of the Gansu Peace Corps volunteers (PCV). It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I was part of Peace Corps. While isolated in my city, rather than feeling like a PCV, I feel like a regular foreign teacher just without the salary. I went from feeling isolated from fast English speakers to a week of a lot of socializing.

What factors influence my social personality?
genetics?
culture?
home environment?

My social personality in group situations is often a quiet listener who knits or hides in the kitchen doing dishes, and who tires quickly ready to leave the situation way earlier than everyone else. I tend to do better one on one, but with groups I don't know what to do or how to carry on a conversation. I do better in group situations where something needs to be accomplished, where we are working together with a bit of socializing on the side.

Can I learn to tell stories, to carry on conversations, to be more engaged with people rather than engaged with knitting? I think so. I always believe that a person can learn anything. They might not be the most naturally talented, but they can always try to learn something new. Practice can lead to an improved skill set, social skills could be one of them.

I think part of my social personality has to come from my genetic makeup because I get tired. Getting tired is out of my control. That is chemistry directing my body to tire out when interacting in large groups.

Another part of my social personality comes from American culture. At this moment, I am not exactly sure how American culture influences my social personality. But I know it does. American culture influences a lot of my personality like for example how independent I am. I like shopping alone and don't want people to come with me. In China people rarely go shopping alone. They always are shopping in at least pairs.

How has my family environment influenced my social personality? My father is a great story teller. I wonder why I didn't learn the skills from him. My mother is more of a quiet person; however, my family rarely interacted with other people. I lived on a farm surrounded by land and rode a yellow school bus that picked us up at 6:50 in the morning since we were so far out. We didn't invite people over for dinner parties. We weren't invited either.

Did extroverts have different family environments that taught them how to be social butterflies?

I am theorizing that maybe genetics is the strongest factor for determining our social personalities. What do you think?

3 comments:

William said...

you sound like me...except i dont knit, haha

i haven't given this a lot of thought, but i thinking that your personality is more influenced by nurture than by nature.

your dad may be a great story teller, but did he encourage you to be the same? different parenting styles give rise to different personalities.

as for getting tired, i don't think that's genetics either. perhaps you somehow conditioned yourself to get tired in large social situations. you said your family rarely interacted with other people, so perhaps that's just what you're used to. if your parents did not see a need to socialize frequently, then you grow up with the same mentality. through time, anything out of your comfort zone becomes simply mundane and unnecessary. thus, you're used to getting tired in very social situations.

american culture--i would think that it should make you more social and outgoing than your chinese peers. but your independence is probably more a result of the fact that you're in a foreign environment rather than of cultural differences.

did extroverts have different family environments that taught them how to be social butterflies? in my opinion, absolutely! in addition, they also had different school environments and peer relationships that fostered that kind of personality.

genetics is certainly a factor in determining sociability, but in my view, nurture plays a larger role.

sometimes, we might get bored of our existing personalities, and then we start to wonder about other people's personalities. you just have to remember that it's never too late to try something new, especially if you are in a foreign country and in an environment where you change your personality as often as you like without old friends thinking that you've gone crazy.

Dr. Jen said...

So William, do you believe that with practice like training for a marathon, one can become less tired in social situations and maybe currently I just don't have the endurance for it?

Also, if nurture is more important than genetics then how do families raise both introverted and extroverted children? Is it because of the age differences between the children or maybe how parents treat the boy or the girl in the family differently?

For example, my brother who is also adopted is a total socialite funny man. Not an introvert at all. He is very very different than me in his personality as well as his likes and dislikes.

As a teacher, I am different than my Chinese teacher peers because my teaching personality is influenced by American teaching styles. I am definitely more outgoing with a different energy in the classroom than Chinese teachers.

However, I believe that the independence and enjoying doing things alone is very much part of American culture compared to Chinese culture where often tasks are done in units rather than individuals. People are always wanting to help me and always think that I am lonely because I do things alone. If I was Chinese, I would always ask someone to accompany me to do everything.

I remember an instance when I was travelling with Chinese friends. They all went shopping together to buy shoes for one of the guys. I also needed to get a skirt fixed, but because of my independent ways I was too independent to ask for help; whereas, if I had been raised in Chinese culture it would have been natural to ask for help.

In order to teach better, I have had to learn to look at my students as groups rather than individuals. Instead of giving independent individual work, students tend to work better in groups or in pairs.

Do you have any theories of why a lot of scientists and engineers are introverted?

William said...

lol you make an interesting analogy. training for a marathon requires hard work and is tiring. if you have to strain to become more social, no wonder you get tired. straining also makes the awkward social personality a self-fulfilling prophecy.

maybe you just have to be in the right social situation--one that suits your interests more. for example...perhaps you can engage in an academic conference on a topic that interests you. then you can be a social butterfly. if you're given a chance to thrive in such situations, then maybe you can become better at socializing in more general situations.

so, yes, i believe that practice can increase sociability. but nobody should have to strain so hard. start with things that interest you. as you become more comfortable conversing in topics that interest you, you will get used to conversing on a wider range of ideas. if not, oh well. the person who is really good at talking about the different varieties of beer might not be very good at talking about the different varieties of personalities. nothing wrong with that.

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If nurture is more important than genetics, how do families raise both introverted and extroverted children? Good question, but you sort of answered it yourself with a nurture argument =P

i don't think genetics can show that birth order results in any predisposition toward introversion or extroversion. rather, nurture would. how parents treat the boy or the girl in the family differently is also an argument for nurture.

birth order, age differences, and gender differences seem to be variables for the nurture argument (if you believe them to be variables at all).

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Americans value rugged individualism while the Chinese value communal cooperation. I agree with you there. It's a small wonder then why we find it so hard to understand each other.

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scientists and engineers...these people need a whole lot of technical knowledge. when they devote their lives to discovering such arcane ideas, there's not a lot of opportunities or interest in finding out about Paris Hilton's latest adopted chihuahua. there's also not a whole lot of people who they can talk to about the things they know. sometimes, being exceptionally smart can make people exceptionally lonely.

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sorry about my amateur psychoanalysis of your sociability earlier...but your post kind of called for it =P

in any case, these are certainly really interesting things to ponder about.