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We Feel Happier When Behaving More Extraverted Than Normal

By Emily Reynolds

Research has shown many benefits to extraversion. One 2019 study on personality traits in the workplace found that extraverts are more motivated, experience more positive emotions, work harder and have fewer adverse experiences at work, while another found that extraversion was associated with more creative thinking.

If you’re not naturally extraverted, however, these wellbeing benefits are not necessarily out of reach. One intervention suggested that acting like an extravert could bring the benefits of natural extraversion, while another generated similar findings a year later. However, some of this work also suggests that for people who are particularly introverted, acting like an extravert could be exhausting and actually produce negative emotions.

A new study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looks in more detail at what happens when we deviate from our “baseline” levels of extraversion. The team finds that higher-than-normal levels of extraversion-related behaviours are associated with more positive feelings — even for those who aren’t extraverted to begin with.

At the start of the first study, 92 participants completed a measure of trait extraversion (i.e. baseline levels of extraversion). Over the next four weeks, they then completed survey questions five times a day related to state extraversion (i.e. in-the-moment extraversion-related feelings and behaviours such as being talkative or energetic) and positive feelings, which was measured with a single question, “How are you feeling right now?”.

The results showed that during weeks in which participants had behaved in a more introverted way than they usually do — i.e. when their state extraversion that week was lower than the average state extraversion across the entire time period —they experienced lower levels of positive feeling. But when they behaved more extraverted than usual, even when their average level of extraversion was not high, they had higher levels of positive feeling. This suggests that behaving in an extraverted way may increase feelings of wellbeing.

The second study replicated the first — only this time, positive affect was explored in more depth: participants indicated how much they agreed with numerous statements about how they felt in the moment (for example, “at this moment, I feel inspired”) rather than simply answering one question. (This study also took place over a shorter time period, with the researchers comparing responses during two three-day periods rather than across several weeks). Again, participants reported lower levels of positive affect during periods in which they had behaved in a more introverted fashion, while in more extroverted periods they experienced higher levels — although these effects were only trends which did not reach statistical significance.

In these studies, behaving in a more extraverted manner than normal did not seem to have negative impacts, even for the more introverted participants, in the longer term. However, other work has found less clear-cut benefits: even if introverts experienced momentary gains in positive affect these didn’t last, and there were other troublesome impacts including fatigue and negative emotion. This may be because those previous studies had participants “act like an extravert” or behave in a way that felt unnatural to them, while in the new work the researchers simply looked at the changes in people’s behaviour on a day-to-day basis.

As the team acknowledges, the study can’t determine the direction of causality between extraversion and positive feelings. Rather than extraverted behaviour increasing positive feelings, could it be that positive affect induces more extraverted behaviour? Future work could look more closely at the direction of this relationship.

If the results have made you want to boost your trait extraversion, it may not be so simple — changing your personality altogether appears to be a bit more tricky than just behaving in an extraverted way a few times a week. If you succeed in tasks designed to make you behave consistently with a particular trait, one study found, change can indeed occur. But trying and failing — which may well happen to introverts attempting to become more extraverted — can have the opposite effect, making people even less likely to embody certain traits.

Do You Feel Better When You Behave More Extraverted Than You Are? The Relationship Between Cumulative Counterdispositional Extraversion and Positive Feelings

Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest