Is it better to be an extravert or introvert? In the US, it’s always seemed like the answer was “extravert.” Being social is lauded and most people seem sceptical of all that skulking about that introverts do.
There’s no doubt research has shown a number of advantages to being a people person.
We compared the upper 10% of consistently very happy people with average and very unhappy people. The very happy people were highly social, and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups. They were more extraverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic, and scored lower on several psychopathology scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.
What happens when you take an introvert and make them act like an extravert? They get happier:
Results replicated and extended past findings suggesting that acting extraverted produces hedonic benefits regardless of disposition. Positive affect increased and negative affect did not, even for participants acting out of character… We conclude that dispositional introverts may indeed benefit from acting extraverted more often…
That’s some pretty eye-opening evidence. (But, to be fair, those chatty extraverts are much better at PR, so let’s reserve judgment for the time being.)
At the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability. One study tested 141 college students’ knowledge of 20 different subjects, from art to astronomy to statistics, and found that introverts knew more than the extroverts about every single one of them. Introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees, National Merit Scholarship finalist positions, and Phi Beta Kappa keys. They outperform extroverts on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal test, an assessment of critical thinking widely used by businesses for hiring and promotion. They’ve been shown to excel at something psychologists call “insightful problem solving.”
Need a top expert in a field? Might not want to pick that outgoing fellow.
Teens who are too gregarious to spend time alone often fail to cultivate their talents “because practicing music or studying maths requires a solitude they dread.” …Ericsson and his cohorts found similar effects of solitude when they studied other kinds of expert performers. “Serious study alone” is the strongest predictor of skill for tournament-rated chess players… College students who tend to study alone learn more over time than those who work in groups. Even elite athletes in team sports often spend unusual amounts of time in solitary practice.
What about more social areas of expertise, like leadership? It definitely gets more complex. Extraverts are better leaders of passive employees, introverts shine with proactive workers:
…although extraverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extraverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking sticks up for introverts in her TED talk:
Overall, I doubt there’s a clear “better” between introverts and extraverts. They both have strengths and weaknesses, which we’re learning more about every day.
Here are a few more interesting tidbits:
- You can generally trust your gut when trying to determine how introverted/extraverted someone is. Faces, handshakes and Facebook profiles are all accurate predictors.
- Taste in music is predictive of personality. Enjoy upbeat and conventional tunes? You’re probably an extravert.
- Dog person or cat person? Dog people are 15% more extraverted.
- Are you a morning person? They’re often introverts.
- Extraversion and introversion predict what sex acts people are interested in.
Me? I remember taking a personality test in college and blowing away the instructors with my introversion score. They were curious to learn more about me but, unsurprisingly, I had little interest in talking with them about it.
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