Further Evidence That Acting Like An Extravert Can Boost Wellbeing

Two women peeking behind mask on wallpaper background

By Matthew Warren

Researchers have long known that people who are more extraverted tend to be happier, leading some to suggest that encouraging extraverted behaviour could improve wellbeing. Last year we reported on the first trial of such an intervention, which found that acting like an extravert for a week led to an increase in positive emotions in certain people. Now a second study appears to have replicated that result — and shown that behaving like an introvert may also reduce wellbeing.

In the new 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 behaviour 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 with the introverted week). 

To encourage the participants to actually alter their behaviour, the researchers asked them to list five specific changes they planned on making, and then sent them periodic reminders of their task throughout the study.  At various points across the two weeks, the participants completed scales measuring their experience of positive and negative emotions and others aspects of wellbeing, as well as their personality traits.

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.

However, these results didn’t hold for all measures of wellbeing. For instance, participants seemed to have reduced negative emotions compared to baseline during both interventions (although the exact pattern of results differed depending on whether participants began with the extraverted or introverted week).

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.

Still, it seems too soon to suggest that we should we all begin behaving like extraverts. The study the Digest reported on last year found that people who had high trait levels of introversion didn’t report the same benefits of acting like an extravert as the rest of the participants, and actually became more fatigued and experienced more negative emotions. On the other hand, the new paper found that baseline levels of extraversion and introversion didn’t affect the results – but it’s still clear that researchers need a better understanding of how individual differences could influence the effectiveness of the intervention.

And it will also be important to figure out which behaviours are actually causing the increases or decreases in wellbeing reported in these studies. It’s not yet clear whether it was being more “talkative”, “assertive”, or “spontaneous” that resulted in an increase in wellbeing in the extraverted week, for instance, and the researchers suggest examining changes in a more specific sub-set of extraverted behaviours in the future. “We hope that research from our and others’ laboratories encourages future investigators to test the potential of behavioral interventions to spur both personality change and well-being gains,” they conclude.

Experimental manipulation of extraverted and introverted behavior and its effects on well-being

Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

14 thoughts on “Further Evidence That Acting Like An Extravert Can Boost Wellbeing”

  1. These experiments don’t seem even-handed. I know for a fact that when I’m expected to act like an extrovert, and when I have to force myself to act as one for business or social reasons, I become less happy. Maybe introverts are valued less in US culture, but I think that’s an issue that promotes narcissism, celebrity, and garrulousness in our society. What a shame that the more introspective are seen as less worthwhile and less fulfilled. I’ve gladly traded some “happiness” for the uncomfortable feelings I’ve sat with that have made me a deeper person.

    1. Here here. Business is loathsome surrogate violence. Society has too many loud mouthed bullying salesmen ans business people who often seem shallow, arrogant ans painfully unaware.

  2. I don’t see any mention of the study taking account of whether participants were introverts or extroverts, meaning this variable could not be included in the analysis. Seems like a large omission, no? This study could just be saying that extraverts have a preference for acting like extraverts and not introverts, which draws a neat circle.

  3. Don’t confuse ”be happy” with ”engaging-proneness to social activity”

  4. what rot – how many more pointless studies can possibly be done in this world that is clearly biased towards extroversion and often false advertising and self promotion in order to ‘success’ whatever the hell that means in this money and resource grabbing culture

    1. From a very Introverted past and now a confident extrovert, there is a lot of truth in this report. Introversion is often the card we are dealt. Staying introvert is personal choice. It doesn’t have to be that way.We DO have the power to change. I am sure there is a causal relationship between introversion and depression.

  5. Well I agree to it till some extent but it’s not a continuous phenomenon cuz once that extrovert phase is over or even going on more than a week,it leads to too much stimulus i.e socializing,content to think about and triggering overthinking,exhaustion and eventually a fiasco

  6. I was once judged by family, friends, peers & colleagues to be not just introverted but also shy and bashful. Sitting in classes, frustrated I knew the answer but too embarrassed to put up my hand and speak.

    Having grown fed up with being a wall flower, devoted the next 30 years of my life to change the previous miserable lonely 30 years. Learning to ‘speak in public’ was a great help, as was doing amateur drama, playing someone else, enables one to be as creative as the script allows.Learning to speak in public enabled me to get rid of my squeaky voice.30 years later, elected President of an organisation [albeit just one year] but required to stand up and speak ad-hoc [albeit from carefully rehearsed notes], by the end of the year, was able to stand up and really speak ad-hoc.

    Introversion is a card we are dealt, but no-one has to remain that way. It is within the power of every introvert to change and become extrovert. But, it takes time. If something doesn’t work, don’t give up or blame yourself. Move on and try something else. Only this morning, I joined a group of friends, we bantered around a table, I gave as good as I got, Friends rolling around in laughter to my spontaneous humour. That is a far cry from an old school report that said I was never spoke, was bashful and shy.

    If you hear any good responses from someone speaking in a group situation, jokes etc, remember it, or write them down to recycle later. Iv’e recycled excellent jokes & humour hundreds of times.

    Please anyone reading this who are a bashful and shy introvert, you can’t help the cards you are dealt. But you DO HAVE THE POWER to change them and become a confident extrovert. You may be surprised to learn that lots of people lack confidence in public settings so you are not alone. But please please do something about it. Leave the introverted past behind and move on.

    Become the extrovert you really want to be.

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