Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Extroverted Introverts

Extroverts are happier than introverts. People who are outgoing and gregarious, who interact easily with others and who cultivate relationships are generally happier than those who withdraw from human contact.

So, what’s an introvert to do? Studies suggest that it might be good for introverts to pretend that they are extroverts, even when this requires them to act against what feels normal.

To make sense out of the issue, we need to know what the researchers mean by introvert and extrovert. There things become less clear.

Sumathi Reddy offers some of the theories for why extroverts tend to be happier:

One theory is that being talkative and engaging influences how people respond to you, especially if that response is positive. Others speculate that people get more satisfaction when they express their core self and opinions. Another possibility: Happiness might come simply from having successfully completed a goal, such as giving a speech.

"If you're introverted and act extroverted, you will be happier. It doesn't matter who you are, it's all about what you do," said William Fleeson, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

For my part, I agree with Prof. Fleeson. Self-definition is less important than what you do.

Unfortunately, the definition of introversion and extroversion are less than clear.

If extroversion involves connecting with other people, surely it contributes to happiness. And yet, some people are boisterous and bombastic, too outgoing and gregarious for their or anyone else’s good. Do you want to call them extroverts? Someone who mouths off about core opinions all the time is likely to alienate more people than he connects with.  

Many researchers believe that extroverts are more comfortable performing in public. Extroverts like to give speeches and feel at home in front of a crowd. And yet, being able to entertain people is not necessarily a good thing. Many natural-born entertainers are so into themselves that they fail to connect with others. They are always performing, so they never really involve themselves in conversation. It’s a “tears of a clown” syndrome.

And then, not all forms of introversion are the same. Sitting in a room looking at the walls is not the same as sitting in a chair and reading a good book.  

Introvert Clark Powell explains that he receives a great deal of pleasure from his solitary activities:

Mr. Powell says his sources of pleasure include learning new things and reading a good book. "I may not share my happiness as willingly as other people…but I consider myself just as happy and I'm extremely motivated to learn and grow as an individual."

Then again, Powell also forces himself to act like an extrovert. He pushes himself to give speeches and feels happy when he has succeeded in an activity that feels somewhat unnatural.

Moreover, some researchers define introverts as people who prefer to interact in small groups. Since there is a considerable difference between attending a small dinner party and dining alone,I do not see the value in affixing the same label to both.

Be all of that as it may, some people are more gregarious than others. Some people interact with others more easily. And some people are painfully shy and withdrawn, manifesting behaviors that make it difficult to connect.

Research suggests that those who feel handicapped by introversion can cure their condition by acting like extroverts.

They do it by identifying behaviors that characterize extroverts and adopting them. If introverts tend to avoid human contact, to skip out on appointments, to fail to respond to messages, then an introvert who wants to overcome his condition would do well to do the opposite of what will feel more natural.

As a treatment model this makes good sense. It belongs to the category of cognitive and behavioral treatments. The key to overcoming introversion is selecting replacement behaviors that counteract the tendency. It requires discipline and perseverance, but it does not require insight into the root cause of the initial problem. 

Trying to treat the problem with injections of insight reinforces the bad behaviors. If you believe that you can only change your ways by gaining insight you will have found an excuse for not changing your ways. And you will have unfortunately been persuaded that changing your behaviors does not require work, but is a spontaneous reaction to a change of heart or mind.


Lindsay Harold said...

I have heard introversion and extroversion described as being less about your actions and more about the way you naturally relax.

An introvert needs solitude and quiet to recharge. While an introvert may enjoy and participate in social activities, they find them tiring and need some time alone afterward.

Extroverts, on the other hand, revel in social activity and find being alone to be tiring and depressing. They seek out other people and social activities in order to relax.

As a friendly and social introvert, this definition works for me and for my husband. We do enjoy social activities, but we find that we need quiet and solitude afterward to really relax and unwind.

Bobbye said...

Very good Lindsay. Stuart made it almost seem that being an introvert was a disease, needing treatment. I'm going to use your explanation instead.

Anonymous said...

I,too, am a friendly and social introvert, but I do guard my quiet time.

I've never looked at introversion as something that needs transforming.

I do think extroverts and introverts offer each other something of value.

The Dark Lord said...

extroverts will say they are happier ... extroverts will also lie more often ...

Webutante said...

I too am with Lindsay and Bobbye...have always thought introverts could be the life of the party but need peace and quiet to recharge their batteries....

But whatever, it seems a balance between togetherness and aloneness makes for the most interesting and three-dimensional adult people. Murray Bowen of Bowen theory always said that a mature person was a mixture of those two constant tensions in life.

Dennis said...

My first thought on reading Stuart's comments were"Aren't people capable of varing degrees of both?" I love being in front of people, performing, talking to them and then I also dearly love my quiet time that only my immediate family has access. Even here just to have time to read, ponder and just daydream is a joy. To revel in "The Theater of the Mind."

Ephirius said...

This is exceptionally belated, but I think the article is right. There is no reason to believe in the ontological reality of a binary category within human nature which can be "introvert" or "extrovert". The whole thing seems too clinical.

I suspect, as others have said, that there is a spectrum of various traits which depend on the time of day, the weather, the amount of sleep one has had, and the people one is spending time with.

With all that taken into account, I think it is almost always preferable to have the traits of extroversion. You can still have time to yourself to contemplate things and have those traits. But I can't think of a single social setting in which it is preferable to irrationally fear speaking to people over having no fear.

I say all of this as someone who once found purchase in the terms as real categories, and who - in part on the basis of the advice in the article - has moved towards those extroverted traits by simple choice.