“Comfort Zones” – Could introverts be depriving themselves of happiness? – Social Psychology Press Release

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“Comfort Zones” – Could introverts be depriving themselves of happiness?

Personality and Affective Forecasting: Trait Introverts Underpredict the Hedonic Benefits of Acting Extraverted

Most people enjoy parties but for introverts, the idea of large social gatherings may be daunting. The thought of getting out of their comfort zone could be enough to induce a sense of nervousness in them; an experience unfamiliar to confirmed extroverts. On the other hand, once they’ve been convinced to go out, they may (heaven forbid) enjoy themselves! Research conducted by John M. Zelenski and his team at the University of Carleton attempted to delve deeper into what goes on in the mind of introverts. How is it that they can enjoy extroverted activities, such as going to a party, whilst seemingly dreading them beforehand? It seems that introverts are just more pessimistic when it comes to predicting the outcome of social events.

Seen as common to most of the population, the traits of introversion and extroversion have been studied widely by psychologists. A number of theories as to why, on the whole, introverts avoid extroverted situations have been discounted; it seems that they don’t tend to feel more mentally taxed, unhappy in social situations or that they’re not being ‘true’ to themselves in the moment. There is another possible reason: the faulty ability of introverted people to predict the effect a situation will have on their emotions compared to extroverts. In a series of five studies, Zelensky was able to show that this last assumption has some validity and could provide strategies to help introverts enjoy themselves a bit more.

The first study directly tested how the traits would impact predictions of feelings. In a questionnaire, University students were first tested for introversion or extraversion. They were then asked to imagine acting in extroverted and introverted ways in different situations, such as attending a big party or sitting in a quiet library, and rated their level of enjoyment in each situation and whether it would cause them anxiety. As expected, introverts had more negative predictions for extraverted settings and that said they’d be more self-conscious.

The remaining four studies aimed to demonstrate the findings of the first in practice. A mixture of students were asked at random to act in either an extraverted or introverted way, apart from a control group with no instructions, in particular group tasks in the lab. Before the tasks, they were asked about how much they would enjoy them. Afterwards, they were asked to rate their actual experiences. The extraverts predicted more pleasantness for the tasks, and indeed did enjoy them. The introverts, however, were more pessimistic to begin with, but it was found that they had significantly more enjoyment from them than they had anticipated. This research demonstrates that most people do enjoy being extraverted, but that introverts find it more difficult to predict this enjoyment.

What does this mean for introverts? As a group, they tend to suffer from higher levels of depression and anxiety. This research could provide clues about helping people with this trait overcome their worries about new situations and possibly offer a whole new range of therapeutic opportunities for them.


For more information, contact John M. Zelenski at: john_zelenski@carleton.ca

To read the article: Zelenski, J., Whelan, D., Nealis, L., Besner, C., Santoro, M., & Wynn, J. (2013). Personality and affective forecasting: Trait introverts underpredict the hedonic benefits of acting extraverted. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 1092-1108.