Mind & Body

Are Introverts Happier When They Pretend to Be Extroverts?

Society isn't that nice to introverts. Wouldn't most people rather be associated with words like "dynamic" than with words like "withdrawn"? We want to be "social" and "fun-loving" and not "shy" or "overwhelmed in public." In the U.S., at least, that's where our values lie — so it's no wonder that extroverts in western societies are generally happier than introverts. So what would happen if introverts acted like extroverts? Could they change to be more "social" and "fun-loving"? Most importantly, would it make them happier, or would they be forever uncomfortable? Turns out, that depends on how it's done.

Play the Extrovert Game!

To give just one example of how being outgoing might benefit people across the board, a 2014 study suggested that people — regardless of their extroversion — are happier on their commutes after they talk to strangers. Yet most people, when asked to imagine chatting with a stranger, thought they'd hate the experience. After actually striking up a conversation, though, people had the most pleasurable commutes. Even though many people are nervous about chatting up the person next to them, there seems to be a big payoff for taking the risk. The more you practice connecting with strangers, the less scary and more fun it seems.

But another study that asked introverts to simply "act extroverted" for a week found that while the participants had mild improvements in their happiness, they also felt more tired and less authentic. Introverts, the study said, might feel good after naturally doing some extroverted things for short periods of time. If attending a party full of old friends feels fun and exciting, an introvert might benefit from some socializing. But the key here is to be natural. Long periods of forced extroversion won't make introverts feel better at all. In fact, the cost could be fatigue and a feeling of inauthenticity.

It makes sense: If you're a natural introvert who simply repeats to yourself, "Act extroverted! Be an extrovert!" you probably won't have a lot of success. Instead, you'll feel like you're being fake, and you'll wind up exhausted. Luckily, there's another trick introverts can try.

One Week as a Chatty Cathy

For new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers Seth Margolis and Sonja Lyubomirsky tried a similar test with college students. But instead of telling the participants to "act extroverted," they gave them specific traits to embody: things like "talkative," "assertive," and "spontaneous." In another experimental condition, participants were asked to embody introverted traits — and importantly, these traits were specifically chosen in order to avoid the negative connotations of introversion. Those included things like "deliberate," "quiet," and "reserved." Regardless of the condition, the participants were told that these traits had been found to be beneficial for college students.

The participants were randomly assigned to spend one week being extroverted and one week being introverted and answered questions online at the beginning of the study, after the first week, and then again after the second week. Those questions were designed to measure feelings of peace and serenity, dullness and boredom, and relaxation among the participants, along with how happy they felt and how much extroverted or introverted behavior they actually engaged in. They were asked to agree or disagree with statements like, "I felt close and connected with other people who are important to me," "I took on and mastered hard challenges," and "I was free to do things my own way."

In that study, all participants had increases in well-being after acting extroverted. The researchers reported that participants felt substantially more connected to others and much more involved in what they were doing as they became more extroverted. On the other hand, well-being decreased in those who were asked to behave in an introverted way.

So How Can You Be Your Best Self?

The most recent study has some obvious implications for what it means to live our best lives. First of all, both introverts and extroverts benefited from acting in extroverted ways over the course of two weeks. But the positive impact may come down to the way you think about it — acting extroverted when you know you're an introvert feels fake, but trying something that isn't tied to your identity, like being more "talkative," might work better.

At the same time, researchers admit that they don't know exactly what made the study participants happier. In their conclusion, they write, "Unfortunately, we do not know the particular behaviors that participants enacted and their unique effects. For example, was it acting deliberate, quiet, or reserved that caused participants to decline in positive affect during the introversion week?"

That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to build your extroverted traits if you want to, but it does mean you should be mindful of how your new actions are impacting your wellbeing. If something doesn't feel good, try something else.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: Sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Embracing introversion is a good idea, too. Learn why in "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Kelsey Donk October 17, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.