Brian Little in TIME magazine | The Upside of Being an Introvert

(And why extroverts are overrated)
by Bryan Walsh

Cover of TIME magazine Feb. 2012

Brian Little in this month's TIME magazine cover story.

“Take Brian Little. He’s a research psychologist and superstar academic lecturer, his class on personality at Harvard was perennially one of the most popular at the university. He’s also a serious introvert…”

TIME subscribers can read the full article online.

From Hotel Halls to Hallowed Halls | Victoria Times Colonist

For a former Empress page boy-turned brilliant Harvard professor, it all started with his dad and a piano

Lindsay Kines
CanWest News Service
Saturday, July 05, 2003

Psychology professor Brian Little, who grew up in Oak Bay, is one of the most popular teachers at Harvard University.

It’s a sunny Friday morning at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and the man voted a favourite professor by this year’s graduating class at Harvard University seems happy to be home. Brian Little, 62, will be wearing a sweltering, blue and gold doctoral gown later in the day for his class reunion at the University of Victoria. But right now the former Empress hotel page boy looks cool and relaxed in shorts and a golf shirt, a patio umbrella overhead, the ocean stretching out behind him.

“This is home,” he says. “It really is home.”

He grew up just steps from here in the house his father built with his own hands — “everything except the electrical work” — the house where his family gathered around the piano each night, singing and laughing.

A family photo of Brian Little when he was six years old.

A family photo of Brian Little when he was six years old.

It was there, perhaps, that the young performer first emerged. Brian Little, boy soprano, began singing on stage at age two and, even though puberty eventually stole his voice and left him with an “utterly mediocre baritone,” he’s still wowing university crowds all these years later.

His children have a theory about his teaching, he says. “They say it’s my way of singing.”

There is more to it than that, of course. There’s an immigrant father’s belief in the power of education; a young man’s delight at scientific discovery; and the dedication of a born introvert, who, every day, goes against his nature to connect with his students.


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Introversion Unbound | Harvard Magazine Jul-Aug 2003

A century ago, psychoanalysts declared that the human personality was largely fixed by age five. More recently, biologically oriented psychologists have detected characteristic signs of temperament in infancy. Even so, personality psychologist Brian Little, lecturer in psychology and a former Radcliffe Institute fellow, is “wary of spurious genetic postulations and claims of a genetic basis for fixed traits.” Another of psychology’s pioneers, William James, M.D. 1869, asserted that our psychological traits are “set like plaster” by age 30. Little counters that James was “only 50 percent correct—we are half-plastered. There is a heavily genetic aspect to the first stratum of personality. But our brains evolved a neocortex, which enables us to override these biological impulses to act in a certain way.”

In a series of papers and a forthcoming book, Human Natures and Well Beings, Little bucks the current trend of biological determinism in psychology. He argues for the existence of “free traits”: tendencies expressed by individual choice. Little ticks off the “Big Five” personality traits—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—and suggests thinking of them as musical notation. “Fixed traits are like a chord, five notes played at once,” he explains. “But you need to extend personality temporally. Over time, traits might be expressed more like an arpeggio, with one or another note dominant at any given time.”

Read the rest:
Introversion Unbound | Harvard Magazine Jul-Aug 2003.