Introverts Are Happier When They Force Themselves to Be Extroverted: Study
Introverts, or people who tend to be reserved or quiet in social situations, can be much happier if they become extroverted, or more talkative and spontaneous, a new, first-of-its-kind study from University of California, Riverside (UCR), has found.
“The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extraverted way improves well-being,” Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a UCR psychologist and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, uses the word ‘extraverted’ instead of ‘extroverted’ (both mean the same thing) because of the former’s use in academia, partly informed by the Latin origins of “extra,” which means “outside.” The researchers asked 123 participants to push themselves to engage with others as extroverts for one week. The same group was then asked to act like introverts, for another week. Since extroversion is a well-liked trait, and its benefits in social situations have been studied widely — better bonding with others, more success at work — researchers made sure participants didn’t imbibe the extrovert=good, introvert=bad perceptions society has; they communicated extroversion to the participants as “talkative,” “assertive,” and “spontaneous,” as opposed to “dynamic,” which has an inherently positive, or aspirational connotation. With introversion, they asked the participants to be “deliberate,” “quiet” and “reserved,” instead of “withdrawn,” which they said had inherently negative connotations.
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Researchers asked the participants to note down their behavior during the introvert and extrovert week and communicate them in regular emails. They found participants reported better well-being after their extroversion week, and that forcible extroversion did not cause any discomfort or awkwardness for the participants involved. Participants also reported decreases in well-being after the introversion week.
Reflecting on the results, Lyubomirsky said in a statement, “It showed that a manipulation to increase extraverted behavior substantially improved well-being.”
“Manipulating personality-relevant behavior over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful,” she told The Guardian.“Social relationships are inherently rewarding for us. We have a need to belong and to connect with each other.”
This finding, however, is better read in theory than done in real life. Setting aside that changing one’s innate behavior is a concept most people resist, being extroverted when you’re actually introverted is extremely difficult; a Guardian reporter who tried it out for a week said it was akin to a root canal treatment. But if extroversion does yield all the positive effects we attribute to the personality trait, then there must be a way to be one without having to put in immense amounts of mental health resources.
“You won’t die,” Jessica Pan, author of Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, in which she documents her experience as an introvert who acted like an extrovert for a year, told The Guardian. “But you are probably going to be exhausted by the end of the week.” Pan says the way to turn social interactions interesting, in a way that won’t drain you, is to avoid small talk and instead engage in deeper, more vulnerable talk with others, be it asking questions or revealing answers.
“Share something vulnerable about yourself, even if that seems terrifying. A person will match that normally and you will feel as if you’re making a friend,” Pan says. Using booze, or a buffer friend to make the interaction easier is “cheating,” Pan said. Spending at least an hour and a half at each engagement while also dedicatedly interacting with others can work in being successfully extroverted, Pan added.
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Many, however, would argue there’s nothing about introversion that needs to be corrected, as implied by this study. If we remove the premise that humans are supposed to be social creatures and just let introverted people be, everyone would be spared the pressure to fit a certain societal standard. Another shortcoming of the study is 123 people can make a study, but that doesn’t lend conclusive proof to its findings. Lyubomirsky herself said that while faking extroversion in her study did not show any ill-effects, it doesn’t mean forcing yourself to be extroverted when you’re inverted will only yield positives in the long term; it could be harmful depending on what future research shows.