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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Music ... Psychology ...

I was going thru an interesting article on the neuroscience of introversion recently. There have been a surprising number of brain studies which well establish that the brains of introverts and extroverts operate quite differently. One side effect: extroverts are found to be “happier”. Well, why not, America is an extrovert culture, and those who go with the flow generally have an easier time of it. Personally, I feel more “fulfilled” as an introvert, even if my life isn’t one big smile.

Another interesting fact about introverts: our brain reacts more sensitively to certain physical stimuli. One such stimuli is lemon juice. Various tests have shown that introverts salivate quite a bit more then extroverts in response to lemon juice in the mouth. Actually, I do rather enjoy licking fresh-cut lemons (when no one else is around and only I will use them). It’s interesting that extroverts can’t easily turn a sour lemon into a pleasurable experience, as the introvert within me can.

This all reminds me of an old episode of “The Little Rascals“, one that I watched many times when growing up (one of the pleasures of summer vacation as a child was getting up around 8, shuffling to the kitchen for a bowl of cold milk and cereal, then going to the living room and watching The Little Rascals for an hour or so before deciding what backyard or neighborhood adventures would be pursued that day). The show in question turned out to be Season 13, Episode 1, first shown in the movies in August, 1934 (by the late 1940s these moved over to TV, which they were perfect for). This episode involved a radio talent show for children, where Spanky, Alfalfa and the gang showed up with a musical band (“the International Silver String Submarine Band”) and wanted to get a chance to play. But the snooty guy in charge had better, more cultured child acts to put on. One of those acts was “Little Leonard”, who did a trumpet solo of “My Wild Irish Rose”.

The kids in the Submarine Band were hanging out in the audience while Leonard was blowing his horn, and one of them pulled out a bag of cut lemons. He gave a lemon-half to the kid next to him, saying “want a lemon, it’s good for your freckles”. (Interestingly, lemons turn out to be good for getting rid of freckles.) So the two kids are sucking away on lemon halfs, and Leonard starts having problems holding his tune. Finally he is blowing nothing more than random notes and has to be gently escorted off the stage. Only in recent years have we realized that Leonard must have been quite an introvert!!! (Yes, any kid who would master “My Wild Irish Rose” would have to be the quiet type).

Of course, the International Silver String Submarine Band finally got its chance just as the sponsor of the show was ready to give up on it, and their rousing version of “Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” saved the day. But it would be another 50 years or so until neurological research would uncover the mechanism which brought Little Leonard down. Recall that he was only watching someone else eat lemons, not eating them himself. But by the 1980’s, scientists determined that our brains contain very active “mirror neurons“, which allow us to virtually feel what we imagine the person that we are observing is feeling. So, the same neurons that would be triggered by lemon juice on the tongue go off simply by intently watching someone else licking a lemon.

And thus, sensitive Leonard bombed out and the extroverted Silver String Submarine guys had a happy time of it. But I’m sure that Leonard went on to live a fulfilled, meaningful life. In the end, extroverts experience life as a half-filled glass of lemonade; but introverts figure out how to take the lemons along the way and make the best of them. My mouth waters just thinking about it!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:54 pm      

  1. Jim, Some interesting observations on extroverts and introverts. But once again I think that science, even if it is *neuroscience*, by breaking things down into too specific an example, does not consider the real complexity of human beings.

    I do not doubt that the brains of introverts and extroverts are different from each other. Probably if we really knew enough about our brains (I’m always amazed at the great amount of what we do not know about our brains.) we’d realize exactly just how different each person’s brain is from the other person’s. (Maybe no two brains are exactly the same; maybe brains come in “specific” brains for each person. Who is to say?)

    As to lemons specifically: True, I know a person who is *very* much the extrovert who absolutely hates lemons – in fact, anything at all that might have a drop of lemon in it will not pass that person’s taste buds. *Yet*, this same, very extrovert person, to my continual amazement, has what I can only think of as extremely sensitive taste buds; this person can describe the intricacies of food in ways that are simply beyond me. However, I wonder where the difference is. Is it in the taste buds or in the brain?

    Then again, I am an introvert, my own peculiar type of introvert; nevertheless, a definite introvert. Yes, I like lemons – to an extent. If I must, I will drink lemonade; but I prefer not to. But I very much enjoy lemon meringue pie. Then again, I am the worst at appreciating the intricacies of the various tastes of any kind of food that may exist; I tend to eat whatever is around and available. (I also have no special hankering after tequila.) The only thing I just really do *not* like is spicy food; but, then again, I was raised on bland food and tend to think that, given enough eating of spicy food, I probably could come to enjoy it as much as a totally different extrovert I know who puts hot sauce on anything that might be called food. I sometimes think this person tastes nothing specific but hot sauce. (I also knew an extrovert who put ketchup on cottage cheese. The whole thing escaped me, but that person enjoyed it.)

    So, while the lemon example may hold in some specific examples of introverts/extroverts, I tend to think that the human brains of introverts/extroverts (really *people* in general) are much more complex than the liking or not liking of lemons and the things that can be made from lemons.

    In fact, it’s been my experience that given a situation where one is obliged to eat something one does not like, after a while, that same individual begins to like that food very much. E.g.: One lent (long, long ago when I was still a practicing Catholic) I decided that rather than give up my love of coffee for lent, the greater “sacrifice” would be to give up the milk and sugar I put in it and drink as much coffee as I always did, only drink it black. For the first 3 or 4 weeks of lent this was a real “penance”; then I began to realize that I started to *like* black coffee. And for the next approximately 30 to 35 *years* I drank black coffee, the stronger the better. Over the years I’ve noticed this with other foods that at one time I would not look at, now are something I would tend to gravitate more to rather than something else. Yet, I still do not have that unique ability to appreciate the various taste levels chefs and connoisseurs of food talk about; that whole thing escapes me.

    What is it that makes us “like” some particular taste? What is it that allows us to appreciate the various “levels” of taste in a particularly complex dish or a wine or a beer or any other food or drink? Is it our brains? Is it our taste buds that can be “adjusted” to like or not like something, depending on how much we are exposed to it? Sometimes it seems perhaps the brain is different; then again, perhaps it’s just a matter of “learning” what to “appreciate” in food; thus, maybe it’s just the taste buds. At this point I’d say, “it beats me.” I have no clue. MCS

    Comment by Mary — September 13, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

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