Should Everyone Act Like an Extravert?
What if everyone tried to act more extraverted? Would that make them happier?
Posted Nov 18, 2019
One of the Big Five personality characteristics that gets a lot of attention is Extraversion (and its opposite Introversion). Extraverts are motivated to engage with other people in social situations. They are bold, outgoing, and assertive. Introverts like people, but tend not to be so bold in public situations, preferring instead to be quiet and unassuming.
In the workplace, extraverts are often noticed for their accomplishments more than are introverts. As a result, it is tempting to tell introverts to act more extraverted in the workplace.
That advice could backfire, though. For one thing, telling introverts to act like extraverts might make them substantially less happy and more tired than they would be otherwise because it is generally easier to act in a way that fits with the default motivations reflected in your personality characteristics.
A fascinating paper by Rowan Jacques-Hamilton, Jessie Sun, and Luke Smillie in the September 2019 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General took a novel approach to this question. They did a randomized controlled trial like what you would do to test a drug or other intervention.
Participants were roughly 150 Australians. At the start of the study, participants did a Big Five inventory to assess their Extraversion. Then, about half of the participants were assigned to act extraverted for a week. They were told to be bold, assertive, gregarious, and outgoing. The other half were asked to be quiet, sensitive, and modest (which were characteristics associated partly with introversion and partly with other Big Five traits). The data from this intervention were also compared to the results from another group that was given no special instructions about how to act.
Six times each day, participants were contacted through an app on their smartphones and they were asked to rate their positive and negative feelings, their feelings of authenticity, and their level of tiredness.
Overall, the instructions to act extraverted led people to experience more positive feelings and to feel like they were acting authentically. However, the intervention did not work equally well for everyone. In particular, the participants lowest in extraversion had the hardest time actually acting like an extravert. These individuals also experienced lower levels of positive feelings and higher levels of negative feelings than those higher in extraversion. The people lowest in extraversion also felt somewhat more tired when asked to act like an extravert.
Putting this all together, telling people to act like an extravert had a positive impact (with little negative effect) for people who were moderate to high in extraversion. For those lowest in extraversion, there was not much positive impact, but they did feel a bit more negatively and more tired.
Somewhat surprisingly, even moderately extraverted people felt more authentic when told to act like an extravert. And the least extraverted people did not feel inauthentic when asked to act like an extravert.
These findings suggest that many people could benefit from connecting more forcefully with the people around them. Social interactions create positive feelings and that benefits even those people who are moderately extraverted.
Of course, this intervention was only a week long. It is not clear what would happen if people were given these instructions with periodic reminders for longer periods of time. It is possible that people would adapt to the positive feelings they get from social interactions. However, it is also possible that people who are relatively more introverted might also develop some new habits that would increase the benefits they get from social interactions. I look forward to seeing more work on this topic.
Jacques-Hamilton, R., Sun, J., & Smillie, L.D. (2019). Costs and benefits of acting extraverted: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(9), 1538-1556