(I bet you thought this was going to be about BDSM – well, you’re wrong…)
So last week I noticed in the newspaper rack at the supermarket that the Times Educational Supplement (usually abbreviated as “TES”) had a picture of Shakespeare holding a light sabre. Apparently, some English professor thought that putting Star Wars into iambic pentameter would help school kids appreciate the Bard’s work. So that was a good enough reason to buy it anyway. However, what sealed the deal was that it also had an article about how introverted teachers adapt to the classroom, or adapt their classroom to their introversion.
“I’m an introvert!” I thought, “Maybe this can help me?”
And there were several very useful tips it gave. But most interesting was a remark by (introvert) University of Cambridge professor specialising in personality and motivational psychology, Brian Little:
Standing in front of a full classroom can be particularly stressful for introverted teachers, who are quick to pick up on what Little refers to as “punishment cues”. “They will note the kid who’s rolling her eyes in the third row,” he says. “They will worry whether the material is too advanced for the kids or not advanced enough. They will monitor the sounds outside that are interfering with the progress of the kids near the window.”
Extroverted teachers, by contrast, are primarily drawn to what Little terms “reward cues”: the students who are excited or engaged. (He refers to this extrovert condition as “pronoia”: a delusional conviction that other people are plotting your well-being.) “They’ll look out and think, ‘They love me’,” he says. “They’ll be more likely to go on, oblivious to the sounds of projectile vomiting at the back of the class. Whereas the introverted teacher is aware of those sounds even before the vomiting kid.”
“Oh, yes!” White says. “But I’ve always assumed that’s just a very teacherly way to feel. I just thought anybody would strongly, strongly sense if there was somebody who didn’t feel happy in their class.
“I can’t block it out, if I feel there’s somebody in the class who’s not happy. It’s a bit ridiculous: you don’t know what’s going on in their life. It might not be anything to do with the lesson – we don’t look radiantly happy all the time. But it’s incredibly distracting.”
This concept of noticing “punishment cues” rang a huge bell with me for social interactions in general. And the “pronoia” term also amused me and made me think of some of the people I think of when I think about extraversion.
Punishment cues, then, have a real effect when I want to socialise or chat up someone. It’s not hard to see how approach anxiety can be exacerbated by the tendency, for example. It’s also not hard to see how it can lead to a reasonably okay interaction still feeling like it went horribly wrong or that I inadvertently made someone else feel bad. It’s a big problem with “exposure therapy” styles of learning to socialise and overcome the nerves, because those methods basically involve the tutor/therapist saying “I think your negative prediction is wrong, I predict something positive. Let’s put our competing theories to the test.” This works well if repeated tests give unequivocally positive (or at least, not as bad as the negative fear theory predicts). However, for things that are less clear-cut, it’s less obvious that it will work. And if the criteria by which a “good” or “bad” outcome are understood are different, then the tutor/therapist might view it as a success while the client feels that their fears are confirmed. Thus, a sensitivity to “punishment cues” becomes an issue.
For me, a lot of the issues I have are made easier by being to put a name on them and recognising them for what they are. It helped with depression. It helped with worrying. It helped with various other aspects of self-improvement wrapped up in this SCW programme. And I think that “punishment cues” is a thing like that. Just knowing that I have this tendency may not allow me to correct for it, but I can be more relaxed about it and understand why I feel that way, and give it a different significance. If I keep this at the back of my mind when I get out there and approach, it may be all I need to work past those feelings of rejection that I create.