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Tom Tangney

Study finds introverts are happier if they act like extroverts

A new study says if you're introverted but act like an extrovert, you'll be happier. (AP Photo/file)

Hey all you introverts out there, I've got the key to your happiness. You know what it is? It's simple. Be more like an extrovert! That's right. Stop being so passive and modest and become the outgoing, gregarious extrovert you think you don't want to be. You'll be happier for it.

That's the conclusion of a series of studies profiled in The Wall Street Journal.

"There are a lot of great things about being an introvert, but the results of our study do suggest that adding a little bit more extroverted behavior to your day might produce more positive emotions and happiness," says psychology professor John Zelenski of Carleton University.

In other words, if you're introverted, but act extroverted you will be happier.

"We brought people into the lab and we asked them to behave either more extroverted or more introverted and then engaged in a group discussion or 'get to know you' interview, and we found that regardless of people's personalities, it was the ones who we asked to act extroverted for a few minutes that reported a lot more positive emotions," says Zelenski.

Zelenski's observations jibe with a Wake Forest study done last year that also showed introverts were happier when they acted like extroverts. It apparently doesn't matter who you are. What matters is what you do.

Nobody's sure why extroverts tend to be happier, but there are a couple of theories - one psychological and one biological.

Theory 1: If you're being talkative and engaging, people tend to respond more positively to you and you in turn feel good about yourself for eliciting a positive reaction.

Theory 2: Extroverts have a greater sensitivity to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Introverts don't get the same biological pay-off from certain behaviors that extroverts do.

But if introverts do benefit when they pretend to be extroverts, why don't they fake it all the time? Zelenski says introverts continually underestimate how much fun it will be to act extroverted.

Zelenski also looked into whether "faking it" would take a toll on introverts.

"Even if there are these emotional benefits, perhaps there are other costs in terms of your energy, your cognition. We tested that in a few of these studies so we had people act introverted or act extroverted and then afterwards we gave them a computerized cognitive task that requires some concentration," says Zelenski.

"We actually found that introverts did just fine even when we asked them to act extroverted. In fact, they were a bit more versatile. It was the dispositionally extroverted people who performed poorly when we asked them to sit there quietly and act like introverts."

In other words, it's harder for an extrovert to be an introvert than the other way around. That at least should make introverts a little happier, right?

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About the Author

Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.


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