Say It Ain’t So!

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).

The results?

Compared to baseline levels at the start of the study, participants experienced more positive emotions during the extraverted weekand 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

18 thoughts on “Say It Ain’t So!

  1. You keep being introverted! As you mentioned what is important is feeling comfortable and content with who you are!! That is what truly makes one happy, not a label or trying to be someone they aren’t.

  2. I think we’re happier being true to ourselves and the world needs both introverts and extroverts. I used to try to become more extroverted and go to parties and try and make ‘small talk’ with strangers. It just made me feel uncomfortable and drained.

  3. As an introvert I definitely think we are undervalued and a lot of times we get pushed to the side for extroverts. I also think we are misunderstood a lot- I had someone tell me in my comments section on one of my posts about social anxiety that it’s a choice to have social anxiety and be an introvert and that people who are like this need to change their personality because it’s apparently it’s that simple.

    1. Great points, Pooja. And the research study I mentioned seems to suggest that becoming more extroverted is an easy thing to do. I don’t think it is, and even if it was, why would I want to if I’m more comfortable as an introvert? Cheers to a fellow introvert!

  4. Maybe introverts are more sensitive to positive emotions, connectedness, and flow, therefore able to receive just as much joy and happiness as anyone else, just needing less to get there. I have always believed that happiness comes from being who you are and I like who you are Jim. You keep being you!

    1. Thanks, Brad, for the kind words. Interesting suggestion that introverts may be more sensitive to emotions and the like, and thus simply need less to feel such emotions. And yes, I agree that happiness can only result from being true to who you are.

  5. Although the study seems flawed, I agree that American culture favors extroverts. What’s the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” or something like that? Inferring that being more extroverted will improve happiness for everyone seems wrong to me, too.

  6. It is better to keep to ourselves rather than pretending to be an extrovert. There is nothing like the quiet happiness and sense of pride if we achieve something.

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