In Western countries, introverts have traditionally suffered from cultural bias that favours the outgoing. However, the underdog of personality typing is being re-framed in a positive light, thanks to a growing number of books, blogs and articles suggesting their superiority in skills important to society – like listening and empathy.
In a world starved of listening, such abilities are central to relationships and influence, argues Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen.
However, Luke Smillie, a senior lecturer in personality psychology at the University of Melbourne, says there’s no inherent correlation between introversion and traits like empathy. It’s akin to claiming all shorter people are really sympathetic and intelligent, he says.
“Of course a lot of people who aren’t tall have lots of positive things to offer. But that’s not related to height. It’s something else.”
Extroversion, and its flip side, introversion, are one of five personality traits of the Big 5 – a popular model of looking at personality that also includes openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Dr Smillie believes the ‘introvert revolution’ stems from the fact a lot of people identify as being more introverted, and have felt marginalised.
With introversion suddenly okay, if not cool, should we embrace our inner introvert?
Looking at five key determinants of happiness, here’s how the research stacks up.
Statistics consistently reveal that extroverted behaviour is more likely to equal a happy mood.
A 2015 study, just one example, found extroversion protected against depression. Conversely, introverts are more likely to suffer from depression.
Psychologists attribute this to the fact extroverts tend to engage in more social contact and activity – behaviours known to predispose to happiness.
Others have argued that our culture rewards extroverts.
Highly extroverted people had a 25 per cent higher chance of being in a higher-earning job, according to a large-scale analysis by the Sutton Trust.
However, introverts are better at managing their money. In a University College London study, poorer extroverts tended to splurge more on luxury items than their introverted counterparts.
Though less likely to be leaders, quieter types shouldn’t hold back on roles traditionally seen as the domain of extroverts.
Those best at sales work had both extroverted and introverted qualities, according to a 2013 survey.
Partly due to their greater likelihood to listen to staff, other studies suggest introverts are effective leaders, particularly of proactive teams. Pizzerias with either an extroverted boss and passive employees, or an introverted boss but proactive employees, produced the most profit in a 2011 study.
Outgoing, confident types might beware their introvert colleagues. Research published in the Academy of Management Journal found introverts less likely to endorse extroverted co-workers for advancement or bonuses.
Extroverts tend to have more friends. However, personality traits such as openness and agreeableness are more relevant.
Research by Sophia Dembling confirms introverts may have more difficulty meeting people. But, they’re also are more likely to be the pursuer than the pursued, attract others with their sense of mystery, forge deeper one-on-one connections and less likely to speak before thinking in an argument.
And, those who experience the happiest marriages? Pairings of introvert women with extrovert men, according to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences.
Loud types might want to watch their diet. Extroverted children served themselves 33 per cent more breakfast than their introverted classmates in a Cornell University experiment. One theory is they’re stimulated more by external cues.
Immune responses may be more efficient in non-introverts. A recent study found genes that trigger inflammation were 17 per cent more active in extroverts than introverts. On the downside, prolonged inflammation is associated with a greater risk of diseases including atherosclerosis.
However, when it comes to a long, healthy and successful life, conscientiousness is the most important trait, Dr Smillie says.
“More conscientious people do better at school; they perform better and are more successful in their jobs; they live longer and eat more healthy.”
WHICH ARE YOU?
– Like being the centre of attention
– Enjoy parties and situations with lots of energy and excitement
– Prefer small groups and one-on-one interaction
– Like solitary activities like walking, reading
– Dislike being the centre of attention
If you recognise a bit of both, you’re probably an ambivert – something in between.
Extroversion and introversion isn’t a categorical thing, Dr Smillie says.
“Like height, it’s not just ‘tall’ or ‘short’. They’re opposite ends of a continuum. A good 65 per cent of people would be somewhere in the middle.”
There’s no right or wrong to introversion/extroversion.
“A lot of what they [extroverts] do is engaging with reward,” he says.
Dopamine (a brain chemical messenger related to reward and reinforcement) functions differently as people go up the extrovert scale.