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What introverts and extroverts learned from living through a pandemic

What worked for our personality types — and what didn’t — can help us forge futures where we can thrive.
Despite all of those internet memes, the truth about introverts and extroverts during the pandemic turned out to be more nuanced.TODAY illustration / Getty Images

When COVID-19 sent us all into lockdown, our social circles shrank to our immediate families and our pandemic bubbles. And as the weeks and months stretched out for more than a year, the ways introverts and extroverts were coping got a lot of attention.

But how much do these personality types affect the way we’ve managed during the pandemic? And how will reentry be different for introverts, extroverts and ambiverts — those of us in the middle of this socialization spectrum?

It might not matter as much as we expected, some experts say. “The difference between introverts’ and extroverts’ reaction to the pandemic has been overstated. At first, it was assumed that introverts would be just fine with lockdown, while extroverts would go nuts. The truth turned out to be more nuanced. Yes, introverts require less social stimulation than extroverts do. But the extreme situation of the pandemic wasn’t easy on anyone,” said Susan Cain, author of “Quiet Power: The Secret Strength of Introverts.”

Dunigan Folk, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, led a team of researchers who evaluated introversion and extroversion in people before and during the pandemic. “We were curious if people were feeling more lonely, and whether extroversion was associated with greater declines,” he told TODAY.

The research, published in Collabra: Psychology, the Journal of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science at the University of California, found just small drops in social connectedness during the pandemic, and little difference between how introverts and extroverts fared.

Unexpected benefits of the pandemic for some extroverts

In fact, some extroverts found benefits in the changes the pandemic forced in their social lives. Extrovert Andrew Zarian of New York City is founder of the GFQ Network. Pre-pandemic, his usual routine included his job in the city, surrounded by coworkers, and a stop at a bar on his way home to have a drink or two and spend time with friends.

The pandemic put a stop to that, and Zarian discovered that he didn’t mind the change so much. “It actually wasn’t terrible,” he said. It gave him an opportunity to reconnect with his wife. “We were able to slow down, where work wasn’t our priority. It was like we started over. It brought us to a whole different level,” he said.

Now he’s vaccinated, and New York City is opening up. He’s back in the office, but he’s not stopping at the bars anymore on his way home. “Even now that I have that option, I’m going straight home. I broke that habit,” he said.

Some introverts crave social connection

Some introverts found they missed their interactions with others. Ijeoma Njaka, an inclusive pedagogy specialist at Georgetown University, said, “As an introvert, it feels weird saying this, but I do miss seeing people.” She finds it easier to mediate the interactions she’s having with other people, though, so she feels less strained.

“Many introverts did come to appreciate the reduced social obligations of pandemic life, and the ability to move around the world masked and anonymous. Some speak fondly of their masks as ‘invisibility cloaks.’ And they’re not keen on giving them up,” Cain said.

Getting cut off from social connections helped Njaka see their value. “As much as I identify as being an introvert, I feel like I’ve learned that extended isolation doesn't help. I feel like interacting with other people is useful,” Njaka said. She misses the casual conversations that come up in the workplace and are hard to replicate on Zoom.

“In thinking about the carving out of boundaries, I’m trying to figure out what type of structure is working in my life right now,” Njaka said. “Flexibility is advantageous for a lot of reasons.”

Pandemic challenges affect all personality types

Experts aren’t seeing huge differences in how introverts, ambiverts, and extroverts fared during the pandemic — and some people were able to find some benefits to the changes the lockdown forced on them. But don’t misinterpret that to mean the pandemic was easy on any of us. It simply means that our personality types didn’t make a big difference in how we coped.

As much as I identify as being an introvert, I feel like I’ve learned that extended isolation doesn't help.

Ijeoma Njaka

Carving out new ways to work, interact and socialize post-pandemic

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, we’re evaluating what we want to resume from our old lives, and what changes we want to make, based on what we’ve learned during lockdown.

“For both introverts and extroverts, the pandemic was a chance to assess what was working about their former social lives — and what was too much. We all live in such a 24/7, always-on culture. For many of us — extroverts included — that’s just too much. We should see this as our opportunity to make changes we’ve been craving, all our lives,” Cain said.

Folk expects that people will struggle to juggle their social lives as we emerge from the pandemic. “It will probably be a bigger issue for extroverts because they have larger social networks,” he said.

But Zarian isn’t so sure he wants to return to the busy social schedule he had pre-pandemic. “I have definitely become more introverted compared to who I was 20 months ago,” he said. “It’s a different version of me.”

He said he’s become more thoughtful about how he spends his time: “I’m not taking my time for granted, and I’m using whatever extra time I have to make a special moment, whether that’s at home or not. I’m having more special moments at home, or in a smaller environment.”

As an introvert, Njaka hopes to take advantage of remote working opportunities when her university reopens in the summer and fall. She said working via Zoom took some getting used to, but once she adjusted, she found it less taxing than working in-person.

Still, she wants to balance remote work with time on campus. “Working in higher ed, there’s a lot happening,” she said. She is looking forward to immersing herself in an intellectually stimulating environment again. She’s also eager to returning to activities she likes to do alone, such as visiting the museums and the zoo in Washington, D.C.