RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Introverts, or people who are naturally more subdued and quiet, are usually at their most content in a private, tranquil setting. However, researchers from the University of California, Riverside say that introverts will eventually start to feel happier if they push themselves to be more social and outgoing for an extended period of time.
A group of 123 college students, all of varying levels of sociability, were asked to act like extraverts for a full week. Extroverts are the complete opposite of introverts, and usually engage with people as often as possible. Then, the same group was asked to act like introverts for a full week.
This isn’t the first study to investigate the effects of “forced extraversion,” but prior research has focused on very brief periods of time. For example, one study had two groups of subjects take a train ride; one group was asked to talk with as many people on the train as possible, while the other was asked to remain silent. The social group reported having a more positive experience on the train than the silent group.
For this study, researchers wanted to investigate if a more prolonged period of forced extraversion would result in similar feelings of well-being.
“The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extraverted way improves well-being,” says study co-author Sonja Lyubomirsky in a media release. Lyubormirsky, a UCR psychologist, says psychologists favor the term “extravert” over “extrovert,” because of its historic academic use, and the Latin origins of “extra,” meaning “outside.”
One of the initial challenges researchers were faced with is society’s general belief that it is more favorable to be an extravert than an introvert. For example, most people would want to be described as “dynamic” over “shy.” So, in order to combat this stigma, study participants were told that both personality types were found to be beneficial in their own way.
So, during the first week of the experiment all participants were asked to be as talkative, assertive, and spontaneous as possible, then the following week they were asked to be as quiet and reserved as possible. Each participant was reminded of their intended behavior via email three times each week.
After the two-week period, participants’ feelings of well-being were measured. Across the board, participants reported feeling better after being more social and outgoing, and also reported feeling worse after acting withdrawn for a week. Interestingly, even self-described introverts said they felt better after getting over their initial fears of being more social.
“It showed that a manipulation to increase extraverted behavior substantially improved well-being,” Lyubomirsky says. “Manipulating personality-relevant behavior over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful.”
In the future, researchers would like to conduct more research on the topic, and include a larger experimental group consisting of more than just college students. They also theorize that some effects of “faking” extroversion could become more apparent over a longer period of time.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.