Would it Help Introverts to Act like Extroverts?-An Interview with Dr. John M. Zelenski

Introversion and extroversion are personality trait. Introversion is when the individual prefers to spend time alone to re-energize themselves and extroversion is when the individual prefers to spend time with others to re-energize themselves. The research “Would introverts be better off if they acted more like extroverts? Exploring emotional and cognitive consequences of counterdispositional behavior” by John M Zelenski, Maya S Santoro, Deanna C Whelan looks at whether there are any costs of acting introverted when one is extroverted.

Dr. John M. Zelenski

1.Could you touch a bit on what the research is for our audience who may be learning about it for the first time?

We usually think of introversion-extraversion as a personality trait, but we can also think of momentary behaviors as introverted (quiet, passive, alone) or extraverted (active, sociable, assertive). All people display a range of these behaviours, even if their disposition makes some more common than others. Research has shown that people tend to experience more positive emotions when they behave in extraverted ways—even if they dispositionally introverted. In these studies, we wanted to explore potential costs of acting differently from one’s trait. For example, is it harder for introverts to behave in extraverted ways? The results suggested few costs for introverts—they did not experience stress along with positive emotions, nor did they perform worse on a cognitive task after acting extraverted. However, dispositional extraverts did seem to suffer some costs: they performed worse on the task after acting introverted. This suggests they may have been fatigued.

2. Do you think the benefits of acting extroverted would be higher than the possible costs?

Perhaps. To this point, the costs have been hard to see in the data. (Although at an anecdotal level, it seems reasonable that people would get tired after too much extroverted behavior—perhaps we have not pushed people far enough.) We know that introverts already behave in extroverted ways at times, and they seem to enjoy these moments. There are other ways to boost moods, but extroverted behavior seems to work well for most people.

3.How do you think acting extroverted helps people become happy?

This is a good question without a good answer. There are some hints that extroverted behavior can elicit friendlier behavior from others (i.e., more positive feedback), that extroverted behavior can help people feel like they’ve made contributions (e.g., adding something to the conversation), and people can use extroverted behavior to meet other important goals (e.g., getting a date, doing an engaging presentation).

4.How do you think acting extroverted can help with depression?

I am not a clinical psychologist, but I’ve heard that some forms of therapy encourage ‘behavioral activation’. This sounds a lot like the more active, adventurous, social behavior of extroversion. In some ways, extroverted behavior contrasts with some symptoms of depression. However, just telling someone to act extroverted is probably not a realistic solution; part of being depressed can include difficulty in doing those things.

5.What do you think could be done to convince introverts to sometimes be extroverted at times when they don’t want to try?

In other research, we have found that introverts can anticipate negative emotions (from acting extroverted) that never end up materializing. Knowing this, introverts might ask themselves how realistic pessimistic expectations for extroverted behavior really are. Still, I am not suggesting that introverts do things that make them uncomfortable. Again, they already do this at times in their day to day life. I think it is probably best to view extroverted behavior as a tool. It can boost moods, and it can help accomplish some goals that require a more active or sociable approach. Other goals might benefit from introverts’ preferred quieter approach, but I suspect it is not all of them for most people.

6.Do you think there maybe any benefits to acting introverted for an extrovert?

We do not have strong research on this yet, but it seems plausible that a bit of quiet or solitude can help people calm down or reduce the intensity of experiences. From time to time, this could be useful for extroverts too. Again, different behaviors will be more conducive to different goals.

7.Where are studies at the moment and where do you anticipate findings going in the next year or so?

We are looking at some explanations for why extroverted behavior seems to make people feel good, testing whether or not advice to act extroverted a little more in daily life actually makes people happier (cf. reports of what people do naturally or laboratory studies), and how different forms extroverted behavior work (e.g., being adventurous vs. social, or minor social contact) with the idea that some might appeal more to very introverted or shy people.

As an introverted person, I always assumed that the cost of being extroverted would be a lot higher than the benefits, but this study shows that is not true and being extroverted sometimes can be very helpful.

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  1. Thus article makes it seem like introverts are “wrong” & extroverts are “right.” I have forced myself to be extroverted at times, it did not make me feel good or positive. What makes me feel good is spending time alone in nature; not pretending to be someone else.

    1. I did not mean to make it seem like introverts are ‘wrong’, just that they could benefit from acting extroverted at times which is what the research found. But if that hasn’t helped you then you should do what makes you feel good.

  2. What are they talking about? I always feel stressed when out with people. Maybe sometimes I overestimate it beforehand–and the dread can lead to adverse effects when there, because I act with my own expectations. self-fulfilling prophecy because I am so nervous from dreading and dreading it. I had to stop being a part of a committee because I was dreading it so much and it made me feel so horrible afterwards to have given no contributions. in that case it was true that I felt at least as bad afterwards as I did beforehand. I like being alone a lot of the time. I like the company of my own thoughts and the company of others removed from me like -books and writing. I like animals–they’re never stressful. I’m always stressed out and don’t know how to cope with social things at all. I’m horrible.

    1. I don’t think that makes you horrible. You just have social anxiety. I can understand the committee thing cause like I’ve left all the ones I have joined for the same reason because I felt like I was just sitting there and I would try to get myself to participate but there are way too many people there. You could try being a part of something like a newspaper that just requires writing for them and you don’t need to attend monthly meetings as that has been working out very well for me.

  3. “As an introverted person, I always assumed that the cost of being extroverted would be a lot higher than the benefits, but this study shows that is not true…”

    No, this study shows no such thing. “perhaps we have not pushed people far enough” Obviously not. The crash after this, if pushed (even by oneself) too long, is HARD. one study where the people conducting it can’t even conclude anything is statistically insignificant.

  4. As an introvert that loves talking to one person at a time. Forcing conversation, laughing too loud, the energy it takes to be in a social situation.. looking around to make sure everyone is included. This is all Not making me happy. I can do it. This happy forced act, but then I go home and am So Cranky and depleted. So this Introverts who act like Extroverts are happier stuff I just do Not understand. You want me happy? Put me in my garden.

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