Thursday, 13 March 2014

Why are extraverts happier?

Numerous personality studies have found the same pattern time and again – extraverts tend to be happier than introverts. But why? A popular theory holds that extraverts are happier because they find fun activities more enjoyable, as if they have a more responsive “pleasure system” in their brains than introverts.

A new investigation puts this idea to the test, and is one of the first to compare introverts’ and extraverts’ momentary happiness in response to different activities in everyday life.

Wido Oerlemans and Arnold Bakker recruited 1,364 Dutch participants (average age 45; 86 per cent were female) to complete a detailed retrospective record of one or more days. The research used the “Day Reconstruction Method”, which involves the participants recalling the previous day’s activities in chronological order, who they were with, what they were doing, and how they felt during each activity. In total 5,595 days were examined in this way.

A key finding is that extraverts reported more happiness than introverts during what the researchers defined as effortful “rewarding” activities, such as sports and exercise, and financially rewarding work tasks. In contrast, there was no difference in extraverts’ and introverts’ happiness during merely low effort, low importance “pleasurable, hedonic” activities, such as watching TV, listening to music, relaxing, and shopping.

The one exception to this pattern was reading – surprisingly perhaps, extraverts appeared to derive more enjoyment from this activity than introverts. Oerlemans and Bakker proposed this could be because reading isn’t always just for pleasure, but can also be completed in pursuit of a reward, such as to pass a course.

Based on the broad pattern that extraverts experience more happiness during rewarding activities, but not during pleasurable activities, the researchers suggested that existing theories should be refined. It’s not that extraverts have a more responsive pleasure system, but rather that they have a more active and responsive “desire system”.

Another strand to this study was that it found extraverts experience a bigger happiness boost (than introverts) when they perform rewarding activities with other people, rather than alone. The results also showed that extraverts spend more time on rewarding activities than introverts, and they tend to have more social contact during their daily activities. All this helps explain why extraverts are happier than introverts (or say they are, at least), but it’s not the whole story. Even after controlling statistically for the fact that extraverts spend more time with other people and on rewarding activities, there remained a strong relationship between extraversion and happiness.

“Extraverts, because of their active nature, are more likely to seek and spend more time on rewarding activities,” the researchers said. “When they do so, they also experience a higher boost in momentary happiness as compared to their introverted counterparts. This partly explains the direct relationship between extraversion and momentary happiness.”

Oerlemans, W., and Bakker, A. (2014). Why extraverts are happier: A day reconstruction study. Journal of Research in Personality, 50, 11-22 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2014.02.001

--further reading--
Introverts use more concrete language than extraverts

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Kenny Chaffin said...

They aren't, they're just misspelled. :)

Christian Jarrett said...

somebody says this every time. BPS house style is extravert, not extrovert.

Nora Miller said...

Christian, do you know if or how the researchers actually defined happiness for the participants? I'm wondering how much of these differences might have to do with the basic definition. I also wonder if their definitions for "rewarding" vs "pleasurable" activities including the things that introverts find most rewarding. I think introverts might assert that they start with a higher baseline for "happiness" and get less of a reward from the external validation that extraverts seek from social activities. So perhaps, while extraverts might get a higher "boost" from such activities, their level of happiness drops after the moment passes, and they feel a desire to seek more stimulation. Meanwhile, introverts find such activities a mixed bag of reward and stress, and prefer to maintain a steadier level of overall emotional well-being without spikes or drops.

LemmusLemmus said...

"Average age 84" - is that correct?

Christian Jarrett said...

d'oh - no, sorry, it's 45. I'll correct it. Thanks for spotting that.

BAReFOOt said...

“BPS house style”… So you *know* you are wrong, yet still you cling to it? Why? Because it gives you a false sense of superiority? Because of your inferiority complex?

You’re just being silly. And you look silly by doing it.

Anonymous said...

what a dumb study... A) not valid, invroverts aren't going to respond to the test in the same way extroverts will. B) do you really think that people tell the whole truth in these studies based on how they feel? serious? 0/10, not valuable

Anonymous said...

A lot of the happiest people i know are introverts.
I think it doesn't have to do with introverts and extroverts.
Just on the individual, and how they choose to go about their given life.
as an introvert myself I'm super happy with my life d: and people view me as a happy-go-lucky x.x and i have to tell people i'm human d: and then i know extroverts who are just always mad at someone or stressed or something.
I could see why this study would be made and looked at like that though.
but, either way, I think it's kind of over looked and silly.

Christian Jarrett said...

Actually either spelling is correct - go check a dictionary. I don't have a preference either way, but this blog is published by the British Psychological Society and their house style is for "extravert". Get over it.

Vicki said...

The psychological spelling is extravert.
The colloquial spelling is extrovert.

Therefore, the correct spelling for a Psychological Society is extravert.

Vicki said...

There have been a number of responses to similar posts for this study in US blogs. The way the researchers defined happiness is, as you surmise, very important.

Vicki said...

BAReFOOt - the only one who looks silly is the one who doesn't understand that there are two correct alternate spellings. (You could look it up. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a load of bull. You basically asked, "Do extroverts enjoy activities extroverts enjoy?" Introverts are happiest when doing introverted things. Art, math, code, writing, drafting.

Moreover there's this stupid implication that "happiness" is the goal of an introvert, my goal is not happiness, but lasting, meaningful creation. I know a lot of extroverts whose only goal is a "good time", a fleeting happy experience.

Anonymous said...

I think Jung invented the word extraversion and spelled it that way (extra = Latin 'outside').

izzle said...

extraverts are happy doing extraverty things. introverts would be happy doing intoverty things. of course intor's will be happy doing things alone/in small groups rather than with a bigger crowd etc. i dont think its the activity itself that matters, whether theyre reading a book or doing sports - it depends who theyre doing it WITH! this research makes no sense to me at all

Lowongan Kerja CPNS 2014 Terbaru said...

it's explaint,

so how to become Extraverts? :) said...

I don't think that either personality is happier than the other. I must say though that extroverts might look happier when they are having fun because it involves a lot of activities. An introvert can have so much fun by himself in a room reading a book so if you compare that to an extrovert who is also having fun doing the things he love then you might think that extroverts are happier but they are actually both having fun and perfectly happy.

Tavia Cruz

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