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Acting like an extrovert has a positive effect on happiness, study finds

Introverts reported a boost in mood when they acted more talkative, spontaneous and assertive.
/ Source: TODAY

For many introverts, attending a work happy hour and making small talk can be draining. A study finds that's actually the perfect opportunity to practice acting like an extrovert. That's because, when people behave in an extroverted manner, they say they feel happier.

Experts believe this shows how important social connections are for happiness in both introverts and extroverts.

“Human beings are social animals and interaction is the key to happiness and wellbeing," Sonja Lyubomirsky, an author on the paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside, told TODAY. "You want to have more meaningful interactions."

Small talk may seem stressfully shallow to an introvert, but that's how a meaningful interaction starts — "with saying hello and smiling and eye contact, more social interaction and connecting with others,” said Lyubomirsky.

Introverts got happier when they acted more talkative, spontaneous and assertive.

Research shows a connection between being extroverted and happiness and the link is so strong, introverts who act extroverted can get a mood boost. Lyubomirsky and her colleagues wanted to explore this relationship more.

They asked 131 people to act like an introvert for one week and an extrovert for one week. To reduce bias associated with these labels, the researchers instead gave instructions that did not use the terms, introvert and extrovert.

To act extroverted the researchers instructed them to be:

  • Talkative

  • Assertive

  • Spontaneous

To act introverted the researchers instructed them to be:

  • Deliberate

  • Quiet

  • Reserved

The researchers randomly assigned people to start either on as an introvert or extrovert one week. The next week, they acted the other way. Then subjects filled out several surveys assessing their happiness and wellbeing.

The results surprised the scientists: Introverts had elevated moods during the extrovert weeks.

When people were asked to act introverted, they experienced more negative emotion.

“We thought that introverts would not benefit from acting extroverted as much, or would not be as happy as extroverts,” Lyubomirsky said. “Introverts got happier when they acted more talkative, spontaneous and assertive.”

These results may change the way experts think about introversion and extroversion, experts say.

“The paper suggests if people have a tendency to be more introverted and then intentionally engage in extroverted behavior, they still benefit,” Jennifer Beckjord, senior director of clinical services at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, who was not involved in the study, told TODAY.

It's not that extroverts are superior to introverts or always happier. The takeaway should be that social interaction is important to wellbeing.

“When we interact more with other people, we get positive reactions,” said Mark Leary, a professor emeritus in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, who did not participate in the study. “For introverts who want to be more extroverted, you can be. You can behave in a more extroverted fashion and it has benefits.”