The Truth Behind Introversion

As someone who is fairly interested in the psychology of personality, any article that discusses any of the big 5 (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) catches my eye. One of the more well-known traits is extraversion/introversion. As a country that values being outgoing and assertive, Americans often consider extroversion to be “better”. There seems to be an assumption that being introverted means you don’t like being around people. Thankfully, this is false.

This summer in my career counseling class, we were fortunate enough to have guest speaker Dan DeFoe come by, whom is very knowledgeable about the assessment called the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This assessment is used to discover what preferences people have in the way they make decisions and view their world. There are 4 dichotomies in the MBTI: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, judging/perceiving, and thinking/feeling. The scores exist on a sort of scale, meaning that you’re rarely 100% one side or the other. For example, you may have a score of 14 for extraversion and 4 for introversion, meaning that you still have introverted tendencies sometimes but you mainly prefer extraversion. One piece of information that really stuck with me about extraversion/introversion that DeFoe explained is that it refers to where people get their energy from. So, it’s not that extraverts love people more than introverts; it’s that extraverts are more energized by being around people whereas introverts draw their energy from more solitary activities.

The reason that I found this original article so interesting is that it discusses some research that found that introverts who act extroverted will feel a greater sense of happiness. It’s important for this statement to be explained because at face value, one might again assume that being extroverted is “better”. Although the original article cites more than one study done to test this hypothesis, the main and most recent research was done by John Zelenski*. Zelenski took 495 participants, assessed whether they were introverted or extraverted, then told them they would be participating in extraverted or introverted activities. Before actually participating, they were surveyed to forecast whether they imagined the activity being enjoyable or not, among other feelings about the activity. The introverts tended to forecast that the experience would be much more unpleasant than the extroverts did. After participating in the activity, everyone was asked to rate how the actual experience was. What the results showed is that introverts significantly underestimated how enjoyable the extraverted activities would be, which explains how the research concludes that (some) introverts who act extroverted will feel happier.

It can’t be said exactly why these results occurred but there is speculation. The author of the original article, Sumathi Reddy, gives a few theories. One is that acting extraverted (outgoing, engaging, etc.) may influence how others respond to you and if that response is positive, the experience is also positive. Another theory is that the extraversion was necessary to complete a goal and the happiness comes from completing that goal; for example, making a speech. One of my own theories is that because when introverts forecast certain activities as being unpleasant and end up not having a terrible time, reality was better than their expectations and therefore produces positive feelings. So even though introverts are happy participating in more reserved activities, participating in more extraverted activities may simply give them more opportunities to have a good time. As Zelenski said “”You don’t think you want to go to a party and then go and have a great time””.

*Zelenski, J. M., Whelan, D. C., Nealis, L. J., Besner, C. M., Santoro, M. S., & Wynn, J. E. (2013). Personality and affective forecasting: Trait introverts underpredict the hedonic benefits of acting extraverted. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology104(6), 1092-1108.

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Posted on August 27, 2013, in Avila Information, Emerging Trends in Psychology, Psychological Concepts, Students and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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