Do You Really Feel Better When You Act More Extraverted?
Is More Extraversion Always Better?
What makes people happy? In pursuit of the answer to this million-dollar question, personality psychologists found that extraverts generally enjoy higher levels of well-being. However, since introverts are in a disadvantaged situation, you may wonder whether they can boost their well-being by behaving in an extraverted way.
Previous research on this topic has led to the widely accepted idea that increased levels of extraversion are beneficial to well-being, but we wondered whether it would be advisable for everyone to act in a more extraverted way. In other words, to boost your happiness, should you be enthusiastic and assertive, go out, and talk to people?
Although extraverted behaviors might be enjoyable, for some those behaviors are at odds with their natural—introverted—dispositions, and therefore such behaviors might actually hurt their well-being. Indeed, in earlier work, psychologists at the university of Michigan and McGill University argued that behaving counter to one’s dispositions is demanding and effortful to maintain and should therefore lead to lower levels of well-being. That is because monitoring and modifying behavior that does not feel natural requires effort and can therefore be exhausting. Moreover, when behaving counter to their dispositions, people might feel inauthentic, and people might not enjoy that feeling.
What Happens When Introverts Act Extraverted?
So, although there seems to be a consensus that extraverted behavior is beneficial for extraverts, we also focused on what is happening when introverts behave in an extraverted way.
Maybe the depleting effects of acting out of character are concealed by the short-term boost in happiness that extraverted behavior typically provides, and maybe the depleting effects only manifest once the initial boost dies out. In other words, maybe introverted people feel good when they engage in social and energetic activities, but feel exhausted once those activities are over. If this is true, the question becomes whether these behaviors pay off in the longer run, and whether we should advise introverts to engage in extraverted behaviors.
To answer this question, we measured people’s levels of extraversion and positive feelings several times a day over a period of several weeks and tested whether those who repeatedly behaved out of character reported lower levels of positive feelings. Our findings showed that this was not the case. When people more often behaved in a more extraverted way, they experienced more positive feelings, and when they more often behaved in a more introverted way, they experienced fewer positive feelings. This finding was true for both dispositional introverts and extraverts. Moreover, we found that this finding was true regardless of whether we looked at a one-week, two-day, three-day period.
All in all, our findings suggest that behaving in an extraverted way promotes well-being. Although we cannot make assumptions about the direction of the effect, it seems that people are happier when they act in a more extraverted way, regardless of whether they are more introverted or extraverted. So maybe you should consider going to that party or going for a chat with your colleague after all…
For Further Reading
Kuijpers, E., Pickett, J., Wille, B., & Hofmans, J. (2021). Do you feel better when you behave more extraverted than you are? The relationship between cumulative counterdispositional extraversion and positive feelings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672211015062
Leikas, S., & Ilmarinen, V. J. (2017). Happy now, tired later? Extraverted and conscientious behavior are related to immediate mood gains, but to later fatigue. Journal of Personality, 85(5), 603-615. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12264
Fleeson, W., & Wilt, J. (2010). The relevance of Big Five trait content in behavior to subjective authenticity: Do high levels of within-person behavioral variability undermine or enable authenticity? Journal of Personality, 78, 1353–1382. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00653.x
Evy Kuijpers is a doctoral student at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the department of Work and Organization Psychology. She studies the role of personality dynamics at work.
Jennifer Pickett is a work psychologist, Alaskan fisherpoet, and freelance writer. She specializes in personality at work and enhancing employee well-being in maritime and extreme environments.
Bart Wille is Assistant Professor Industrial-Organizational Psychology and HRM at Ghent University. His research focuses on psychological individual differences (personality traits, vocational interests, career competencies) in the context of careers.
Joeri Hofmans is Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research focuses on the role of personality, leadership, and motivation at work, with particular emphasis on within-person fluctuations and temporal dynamics.