Why Do Introverts Enjoy Watching People (Alternatively: Is People Watching an Olympic Sport?)

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It can be the most blissful of afternoons for an observationally inclined introvert: Sitting quietly in a crowded mall, bus stop, pier, or store, watching people as they swarm in every which direction, ebbing and flowing with the twisting tides of the ever ticking clock.

But wait. Isn’t that contradictory?

Why is it that introverts, who are otherwise world-renowned for avoiding gathering places of humanity, often find pleasure in observing such said places? Can it be that we secretly, deeply, primally long to be part of the world which is so intrinsically extroverted?

LOL. Nope.

To understand, one really needs look no further than the nature of human interaction itself. To truly thrive as a human, we have a basic desire to socialize – that is, to be with other people of like mindset and personality, and to communicate, one being to another. I often refer to this basic human desire as social need, and it is true no matter your orientation, introvert or extrovert. Extroverts, however, are able to fill this need quite easily, as they, by nature, seek out, and benefit from, interaction at any and all points. The result is that extroverts exert a form of coagulation in people, resulting in the basic “group” that introverts often struggle feeling left out of. Some researchers believe this might be why young introverts often struggle with depression more often than their extroverted compatriots.

Still, a healthy, adult introvert is usually aware that being part of the group is often worse than being left out. So why, precisely, are we so commonly found gaping from the sidelines?

Let’s examine a couple reasons.

Introverts still have a social need. And while this need is often filled by actual social interaction, this is costly. And so, being the spendthrifts we are, letting other people do the socializing, and simply allowing ourselves to graze on the energy is enjoyable. Really, it is a symbiotic relationship only interrupted by the occasional well-meaning extrovert who tries to “help” us join the group.

Introverts tend toward introspection. Though the level of introspection we allow ourselves varies introvert to introvert, most of us spend quite a chunk of our time thinking about the world, rather than acting out in it. Observing other people in social action allows us time to consider our actions versus the actions of those we see, and therefore, in a way, to be able to see the potential results of our life decisions (past, present, and future) acted out in front of our own eyes.

People are entertaining.  Introverts often find extroverted people quite amusing. Their actions, reactions, and everyday activities are so similar, yet so foreign to the world an introvert knows and loves, that they often find the real life activities of strangers to play out similar to a comedy of errors. Inversely, they are often quite bewitched by watching other introverts, once again veering to the previous point.

It is a state of rest.  Most importantly, tucked away in a crowded space, an introvert finds refuge and rest. Much like sitting on a covered porch and watching a thunderstorm roar past, they find a quiet place to do some thinking in amongst the chaos of the day to day.

Did we miss something? Have a story or experience? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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