By Caroline Fleck
Are You Introverted or Extroverted, and Does it Even Matter?Uploaded: Mar 22, 2015
"She's an introvert, I'm an extrovert, why did we think a marriage was a good idea?"
"It's hard for me to find activities for both children as one's introverted and the other is extroverted."
In my work, I encounter statements like this on almost a daily basis. Of all the personality traits that psychologists have studied over the years, the extroversion-introversion dimension seems to be the one that really resonates with people. So what do we know about these traits? Is it true that people are really one or the other? And do extroversion-introversion even have anything to do with our quality of life?
Because these traits are so popular, you can bet they've been studied extensively. They were first introduced by the psychologist Carl Jung back in the 1920s and have since featured prominently in nearly every comprehensive model of personality.
Imagine a spectrum. At one end (extroversion), you have people who are outspoken, outgoing, and occupied with the world around them. On the other end (introversion), you have folks who are quiet, soft spoken, and focused on thoughts or mental experiences. Rather than remaining fixed at one end or the other, this spectrum operates as a continuum - people exhibit a mix of introverted and extroverted tendencies depending on the context. An extrovert is thus someone who responds to many, but not all, situations with the qualities of extroversion.
If you are interested in how your personality maps onto these dimensions consider the following question: do you typically feel energized or depleted when around other people? Again, we're interested in generalities here, so think in terms of how you frequently, or usually feel. Generally speaking, extroverts feel more energized or alive around others, while those considered introverts report feeling drained or depleted by social situations.
Now, what does being an extrovert or introvert mean for your quality of life? As I said, there's been lots of research on these traits in the last 100 years. Among the more interesting findings is the correlation between these traits and self-reported happiness: extroverts consistently report higher levels of happiness than introverts (Pavot, Diener, and Fujita, 1990). Similarly, studies have shown that when instructed to engage in an extroverted-manner, extroverts and introverts alike show an increase in positive affect (Fleeson, Malanos, and Achille, 2002) .
Researchers have of course offered all sorts of interpretations of this data. Author Susan Cain, for instance, suggests that these correlations could be explained by the fact that Western society, and the United States in particular, is "extroversion-centric" with schools and workplaces that prioritize and reward extroverted behavior.
Others suggest that the correlation between extroversion and happiness might be the result of biased surveys in which happiness is measured by one's endorsement of statements such as "I like being around other people" and "I'm fun to be around," that seem to assess extraversion as much as happiness (Laney, 2002).
In my clinical experience, I can't say that I've seen much of a difference between extroverts and introverts with regards to baseline levels of happiness. However, I have consistently observed that increases in introversion over time correlate with increases in depression.
This might come as no surprise to those of you who have received cognitive-behavior therapy or other behavioral treatments for depression. These treatments are among the most effective interventions for depression and work primarily by increasing one's attention to, and engagement in, meaningful social activities.
So where your baseline is on the extroversion-introversion spectrum might be meaningful, it might not. If, however, you notice your baseline moving significantly in the direction of introversion over time, you might consider challenging yourself to seek out more people and activities, even if only from the comfort of your home.