The Porcupine Problem: The Real Reason Introverts Push Everyone Away

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Come closer. No, stay away.

As humans, we crave positive social relationships — it's one of our fundamental needs. In fact, failure to satisfy this need can have devastating consequences to our psychological well-being.

Why then do we often withdraw from others when we clearly desire companionship?

The 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was the first talk about this concept, later named The Porcupine Problem. Schopenhauer said, "A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter, but as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse.

However, the cold drove them together again, when the same thing happened ... In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature."

Simply substitute being a know-it-all, argumentative, critical, snippy, negative, cranky, obnoxious, snotty individual for sharp quills and you can see how, while humans need to be around each other, they sometimes can't stand to be around each other.

In a 2007 study by Jon. K. Maner, C. Nathan DeWall, and Roy F. Baumeister from Florida State University, and Mark Schaller of University of British Columbia, called "Does Social Exclusion Motivate Interpersonal Reconnection? Resolving the 'Porcupine Problem,'" had some interesting findings.

The study says that "evidence from 6 experiments supports the social reconnection hypothesis which suggests that the threat of social exclusion led participants to express greater interest in making new friends, to increase their desire to work with others, to form more positive impressions of novel social targets, and to assign greater rewards to new interaction partners."

But wait! The researchers continue: "Findings also suggest potential boundary conditions to the social reconnection hypothesis. Excluded individuals did not seem to seek a reconnection with the specific perpetrators of exclusion or with novel partners with whom no face-to face interaction was anticipated."

If you deliberately don't invite me to your party and then post pictures about it all over Facebook, I'm not going to make any overtures to you suggesting that we hang out soon.

Instead, I'm going to put up walls AKA human-quills so I don't give you the opportunity to hurt me again, even if I'm feeling lonely and you give great parties.


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