The Psychology of Hollywood Screamers (You Know Who They Are) Explained

Illustration By Rafa Alvarez

Susan  Cain, author of 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,' deconstructs the "extreme extrovert."

Hollywood is rife with stories of screamers, from Don Simpson to David O. Russell caught on video berating an actor on set. In your study of introverts versus extroverts, what motivates screamers?

A few different things. Introverts in general have nervous systems that respond to less stimulation — they’re easily overwhelmed in loud situations. And extroverts are the opposite — they can become listless, sluggish and unhappy if there isn’t enough going on. An extrovert may try to stir things up, and for an extreme extrovert, the sweet spot is in hyperstimulation in many forms, including confrontational, noisy and highly challenging situations that satisfy that thirst. So there’s a profound biological explanation going on. At the same time, it’s crucial to understand that most extroverts are not screamers. So this kind of nervous system is likely a component of what makes a screamer a screamer, but it’s not the full explanation.

Why does Hollywood attract screamers?

Some people just have these traits, but others are operating in a world where these traits are rewarded, so they get accentuated. Our culture has an ambivalence about narcissistic behaviors — or flamboyant screamers. We like to say that we don’t approve of narcissists, that we don’t want to work for one, but the reality is, we often admire those figures because they carry themselves with a great sense of confidence that makes the people around them feel confident, too. Screamers and narcissists also tend to be very compelling figures — and Hollywood, almost by definition, is all about entertainment.

How about execs who hobble their teams but can’t see it because of ego?

I often cite research by Adam Grant, who is a social scientist at the Wharton School: If you have an incredibly engaged, proactive team, you might be better off with an introverted, laid-back studio boss or just getting out of the way. The CEO who once ran 3M, William McKnight, had a mantra: “Hire good people and leave them alone.” There’s wisdom in that.

Susan Cain also is co-founder of Quiet Revolution, a website dedicated to “unlocking the power of introverts.”

This story first appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.