By Emily Reynolds
Research has shown many benefits of extraversion. A 2019 study of personality traits in the workplace found that extraversion was more motivated, experienced more positive emotions, worked harder, and had fewer negative experiences at work, while another found that extraversion was associated with more creative thinking.
However, unless you are naturally extroverted, these wellbeing benefits aren’t necessarily out of reach. One intervention suggested that acting like an extraversion might bring the benefits of natural extraversion, while another gave similar results a year later. However, some of this work also suggests that it can be stressful for particularly introverted people to act like an extravert and actually produce negative Emotions.
A new study published in Bulletin for Personality and Social Psychology, examines in more detail what happens when we deviate from our “basic level” of extraversion. The team finds that above-average levels of extraversion-related behavior are associated with more positive emotions – even for those who haven’t been extraverted to begin with.
At the start of the first study, 92 participants took a measurement of trait extraversion (ie, baseline levels of extraversion). Then, for the next four weeks, they answered survey questions five times a day on state extraversion (ie, current extraversion-related feelings and behaviors such as talkative or energetic) and positive feelings measured by a single question, “How are you feeling right now?”
The results showed that participants felt less positive in weeks when they had behaved more introverted than usual – that is, when their state extraversion that week was lower than the average state extraversion over the entire period. But when they behaved more extroverted than usual, even when their average level of extraversion was not high, they had a higher level of positive feelings. This suggests that extraverted behavior can increase wellbeing.
The second study replicated the first – only this time the positive affect was examined more deeply: The participants stated how much they agree with numerous statements about their current feeling (e.g. “at this moment I feel inspired”) rather than just answer a question. (This study was also conducted over a shorter period, with the researchers comparing the responses over two periods of three days each, rather than several weeks). Again, the participants reported that they had lower levels of positive affect in phases when they had behaved more introverted, while they experienced higher levels in more extroverted phases – although these effects were just trends that did not achieve statistical significance.
In these studies, extravert behavior did not appear to have any negative long-term effects, even for the more introverted participants. However, other work has found less clear benefits: even when introverts experienced temporary positive affect gains, they were not permanent, and there were other disruptive effects such as fatigue and negative emotions. This may be because the participants in these earlier studies “extraverted” or behaved unnaturally, while the researchers in the new work simply looked at changes in people’s behavior in everyday life.
As the team admits, the study fails to determine the direction of causality between extraversion and positive feelings. Could it be that positive affect induces extraverted behavior rather than extraverted behavior enhancing positive feelings? Future work could examine the direction of this relationship in more detail.
When the results got you to your characteristic Extraversion, it may not be that easy – changing your personality overall seems a little more difficult than extraverting yourself just a few times a week. If you are successful at tasks that aim to make you behave consistently about a certain trait, according to a study, change can actually happen. But attempts and failures – which can happen to introverts trying to become more extrovert – can have the opposite effect, making people less likely to embody certain traits.
– Do you feel better when you act more extrovert than you are? The relationship between cumulative counter-dispositional extraversion and positive feelings
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles