In a new research study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Seth Margolis and Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California, Riverside, asked 131 participants to alter their behavior over a two week period to be more extraverted or introverted. For one week, participants were encouraged to act as “talkative”, “assertive” and “spontaneous” as possible; for the other, they were told to act “deliberate”, “quiet” and “reserved” (all participants completed both weeks, but half began with the extraverted week while the others began with the introverted week).
Compared to baseline levels at the start of the study, participants experienced more positive emotions during the extraverted week — and also showed reduced positive emotions during the introverted week. Some other measures of wellbeing, such as feelings of connectedness and flow (the experience of being immersed in — and enjoying — an activity) were also boosted by acting extraverted and reduced by acting introverted.
The results add to the small, albeit growing, body of evidence that acting like an extravert can improve certain aspects of wellbeing — particularly measures of positive emotion. But the authors suggest that their biggest contribution is to show that acting like an introvert can also have an effect. “Given that introversion is generally not regarded as desirable or advantageous in U.S. culture … we believe our most compelling results are those showing that well-being decreases can be substantial when people act more introverted than usual,” they write.
As an introvert, these results are hard for me to read. (I’ve written about my results for the Myers Brigg personality test, I’m an INTJ; there’s also a link where you can take the test yourself, for free).
I never knew that “introversion is generally not regarded as desirable or advantageous in U.S. culture”. I must have missed that memo. I’m perfectly happy being “quiet” and “reserved”, and if I’m put into situations that require a more extroverted nature, I just don’t feel as comfortable.
I don’t want to think that in order to be happier, I have to act like someone I’m not.
There is one line from above that holds out some hope for me: “…we believe our most compelling results are those showing that well-being decreases can be substantial when people act more introverted than usual.” (emphasis added)
So perhaps if being an introvert is your “natural” state, and you behave as you normally would, then you wouldn’t experience these decreases in well-being that were found in the study. It’s only when you act more introverted than usual that such decreases occur.
Such an interpretation makes some sense to me. I think when we act like ourselves and are comfortable with ourselves, that we perform at our best. If you’re an introvert, and you act like one, great. If you’re an extrovert, and you act like one, great.
While that interpretation may help explain the decrease in well-being that was found in the study when acting more introverted than usual, it doesn’t explain the increases in positive well-being that resulted from acting more extraverted.
I’m just not sure I could do that, “act” more extraverted, even if it meant an increase in positive emotions.
Doing so would make me uncomfortable, so I don’t know why there would be an increase in my positive emotions.
So I’ll just rely on the work of Susan Cain, who wrote the bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain argues that modern Western culture misunderstands and undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted people, leading to “a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness”. Cain cites research in biology, psychology, neuroscience and evolution to demonstrate that introversion is both common and normal, noting that many of humankind’s most creative individuals and distinguished leaders were introverts.
Cain also gave a great TED talk on her work; it’s worth watching, especially for us introverts.
I think I’ll continue to be my introverted self.
*image from Introvert, Dear