HAPPY INTROVERTS? 1
Introversion, Solitude, and Subjective Well-Being
John M. Zelenski
Deanna C. Whelan
In this chapter we review personality differences in propensities for solitude, focusing on the
dimension of introversion-extraversion, and its link with psychological well-being. Although
extraversion is often linked with greater happiness, many object to this conclusion. We consider
these objections and examine their veracity with regard to empirical work. Although we
ultimately conclude that introversion is indeed associated with lower levels of happiness, our
review also provides a more nuanced view of this association, for example, how its magnitude
can depend on measurement tools or culture. Finally, we review and evaluate theoretical
explanations for extraverts’ characteristically higher levels of happiness.
KEYWORDS: Personality, extraversion, introversion, subjective well-being, happiness
Zelenski, J. M., Sobocko, K., & Whelan, D. C. (2014). Introversion, solitude, and subjective
well-being. In R. J. Coplan and J. C. Bowker (Eds.), The Handbook of Solitude:
Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone. (pp.
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 2
Introversion, Solitude, and Subjective Well-Being
Solitude is primarily a momentary experience, but it is also clear that some people are
more prone to experience or desire solitude. The commonly discussed personality dimension of
introversion-extraversion describes this difference between people. Introverts tend to be
reserved, timid, and quiet; extraverts are more social, talkative, and bold. Extraverts also tend to
be happier (Wilson, 1967). As much as the prototypical ‘very happy person’ might seem quite
extraverted, some also wonder if this is really true. Couldn’t the quiet bliss of some tea (caffeine
free) and a good book rival the lurid excess of an all-night party? Perhaps introverts are equally
happy, but keep it inside, less available for all to see. In this chapter we explore personality
differences in propensities for solitude, focusing on the dimension of introversion-extraversion,
and its link with psychological well-being.
Overview of Introversion-Extraversion
Popular conceptions of introversion and extraversion are often attributed to Jung, but
empirical personality research on the topic has a history that is distinct from these. Beginning in
the 1940s, Hans Eysenck (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985) distinguished a dimension of introversion-
extraversion from neuroticism-stability noting that psychological distress seemed independent of
active sociability or lack thereof. He developed his personality model both theoretically and
empirically. That is, he developed a physiological theory of traits, suggesting that extraversion
results from chronic under-stimulation, thus extraverts seek compensatory stimulation in risky,
social, and generally active behavior. In contrast, introverts meet their stimulation needs much
more easily and can become over-stimulated in highly social contexts, thus preferring quieter
activities. Eysenck also employed the statistical tool of factor analysis to organize traits and
develop questionnaire measures. These analyses revealed which narrower traits clustered
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 3
together in the introversion-extraversion domain (e.g., sociability, assertiveness, activity,
sensation seeking) and also which characteristics were more distinct, deriving another broad trait
of neuroticism (anxiety, guilt, shyness) and later psychoticism (antisocial, impulsive, creative).
Other researchers began with natural language, yet arrived at similar conclusions
regarding the major dimensions of personality. The lexical hypothesis assumes that important
traits will occur more frequently in language; they will have many synonyms and occur in many
languages (John, Angleitner, & Ostendorf, 1988). Early work by Allport and Odbert (1936)
literally scoured the English dictionary for every trait descriptive adjective and then honed a
seminal list of personality characteristics. Various researchers then reduced, amended, and
clustered them and then used factor analysis (of personality ratings using the adjectives) to
determine which tended to co-occur in people (see Goldberg, 1993 for a review of this history).
There has been some variation within, and disagreement with, this approach (Block, 1995, 2010),
but most personality psychologists now accept that about five broad factors –extraversion
(introversion), emotional stability (neuroticism), agreeableness, conscientiousness, and
openness— define personality trait space. Most important for our purposes, the trait of
introversion-extraversion appears again. In fact, virtually every attempt at comprehensively
describing personality includes a similar dimension. Assessment tools and theoretical
explanations sometimes disagree about specific narrower subtraits (as we discuss in more detail
in a later section), but the general construct of introversion-extraversion is ubiquitous (see Wilt
& Revelle, 2009 for a general review of extraversion).
Viewing introversion-extraversion in the context of these comprehensive taxonomies (i.e.,
Eysenck’s or the ‘Big 5’) underscores the vast breadth of the trait. The construct encompasses a
substantial portion of the entire personality trait space. Narrower traits or facets each contribute
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 4
to this ‘super trait’. Despite our focus at the broadest level, it is often useful to study these
narrower traits as they can offer additional nuance (see many other chapters in this volume). For
example, whereas people who are shy desire more social contact while being thwarted by anxiety,
people who are unsociable seem content with their low levels of social contact. Both shy and
unsociable people would score high on introversion. Some distinction might still be made at the
level of broad traits, however. Anxiously shy people would also score high on neuroticism where
as merely unsociable people would not. Introversion is statistically and conceptually
independent of trait neuroticism –some introverts are prone to negative emotions (a defining
feature of neuroticism), but a roughly equal number do not share this propensity. There is
nothing about introversion that necessarily suggests increased anxiety, yet some introverts also
have it. Constructs that overlap with introversion (e.g., social anxiety, shyness, loneliness,
sensitivity, social anhedonia) can be differentiated. Other broad traits (e.g., neuroticism) can be
helpful, but narrower or more dynamic constructs (e.g., anxious attachment) ultimately offer
more nuance. Introversion is broad; there are many ways to be introverted.
In addition, rather than the categorical types that the terms ‘extravert’ and ‘introvert’
imply, empirically minded personality psychologists see introversion-extraversion as a
continuous dimension with a relatively normal distribution (most people fall near the middle).
Linguistic convenience leads us to use these ‘type’ words when we actually mean the full
dimension. Also, it is a single bipolar dimension, so associations with introversion are exactly
opposite of associations with extraversion. Thus, for example, if we write, “Extraverts tend to
like spicy food,” readers should understand that we actually mean that people who score higher
on the dimension of extraversion like spicy food more than people who score lower, or
‘introverts’; we might describe the same finding as, “Introverts tend to dislike spicy food.”
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 5
A primary conceptual characteristic of introversion is increased experience of solitude.
There is considerable empirical support for this notion. For example, at the level of one-time
self-reports, broad trait introversion is correlated with narrower scales that directly assess the
preference for solitude (Burger, 1995; Long, Seburn, Averill, & More, 2003). Other studies have
asked research participants to estimate how much time they spend in solitary or social activities,
and again results support the idea that introverts spend more time in solitude (e.g., Argyle, & Lu,
1990; Leary, Herbst, & McCrary, 2003). Such global self-reports likely suffer from recall biases,
but the day reconstruction method attempts to minimize bias by keeping recall short-term and
concrete. Here, research participants break a specific recent day into about 15 episodes and then
answer questions about each episode. This creates something much closer to an actual average
of how time was spent compared to a single global question. This improved technique confirms
that introverts report more time alone (Srivastava, Angelo, & Vallereux, 2008).
Further eliminating the possibility of recall bias, the experience sampling method requires
subjects to report what they are doing ‘in the moment’ multiple times a day. Averages across
such reports again suggest that introverts spend less time in social activities (Asendorpf &
Wilpers, 1998; Lucas, Le, & Dyrenforth, 2008). Taking things a step further, experience can be
sampled via objective audio recording and then coded by people blind to participants’
dispositions, rather than relying on self-reports. This sampling method once again found that
introverts spend more time alone and speak less than extraverts (Mehl, Gosling, & Pennebaker,
2006). Thus, we can be quite confident that introverts are indeed more prone to solitude.
Despite this confidence, the effect sizes in this research are not enormous, and they tend
to get smaller as methods go from global reports to specific behavior counts. Accordingly,
although introverts may typically spend more time alone compared to their more extraverted
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 6
counterparts, it is also worth considering that people deviate from their average or preferred
behavior frequently (Fleeson, 2001). For example, situational demands (e.g., a job) or other
personal goals (e.g., getting a date) might require dispositional introverts to act extraverted and
vice versa. Research suggests that this happens frequently. Average (trait) differences in
behavior are robust, but momentary variation is also substantial (Fleeson & Gallaher, 2009).
Much of the research we review in the following sections focuses on trait level differences, and
thus addresses the issue of whether people who spend comparatively more time in solitude
(introverts) tend to be more or less happy than those who spend less time in solitude (extraverts).
This, however, is a slightly different question than whether or not moments of solitude are
themselves enjoyable, or whether some people enjoy solitude more than others.
A Closer Look at the Links between Introversion and Happiness
At the broad level of analysis, there is fairly robust evidence that people scoring higher
on extraversion report higher levels of happiness; introverts are less happy (DeNeve & Cooper,
1998). Despite this, our introverted academic colleagues, friends, and family bristle at this idea.
Here we consider their objections and evaluate relevant empirical evidence. Although we
ultimately conclude that introversion is indeed associated with lower levels of happiness, our
review also provides a more nuanced view of this association.
Objection #1: Happiness measures are biased towards extraverts. Defining
happiness can be tricky, and this objection suggests that the way we assess happiness accounts
for its association with extraversion. If happiness questionnaires assess only the exuberance of
parties rather than the contentment of quiet walks, they would be biased to a more extraverted
form of happiness.
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 7
This objection is plausible as happiness is a multifaceted construct (Kim-Prieto, Diener,
Tamir, Scollan, & Diener, 2005). One part of happiness is certainly affective, consisting of
emotional well-being, hedonic balance, or experiencing many pleasant and few unpleasant
emotions over time. Beyond emotional experience, most happiness researchers also include a
more cognitive assessment that things are “going well”, or life satisfaction. At the empirical
level, affective and cognitive measures are related but also somewhat distinct (Lucas, Diener, &
Suh, 1996). The combination of hedonic balance (sometimes split between positive and negative
emotions) and life satisfaction is often termed subjective well-being. This hedonic approach to
happiness is sometimes contrasted with a broader eudaimonic approach. In the eudaimonic
tradition, psychological well-being is viewed more broadly to include adaptive personal
characteristics. For example, Ryff’s (1989) psychological well-being inventory assesses
autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in
life, and self-acceptance. Although some question the usefulness of considering these
eudaimonic indicators as happiness per se (Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008), they are the
kinds of things our introverted objectors often mention as more important than ‘extraverted
There are good reasons to think that the association between happiness and introversion-
extraversion might depend on the particular operationalization of happiness, and some widely
used measures may indeed favor extraverts. Although there are many ways to organize
emotional experience, personality psychologists often use a two-dimensional affect circumplex
model (Larsen & Diener, 1992). This conceptual space is defined by a dimension that
distinguishes pleasant from unpleasant feelings and a second dimension that varies in terms of
arousal. A very popular measure of affect, the PANAS (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988),
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 8
rotates these dimensions 45 degrees in assessment. Thus, positive affect captures activated
pleasant feelings (enthusiastic, excited, alert), whereas negative affect captures activated
unpleasant feelings (nervous, upset, irritable).
The PANAS may favor finding an association with extraversion because of the activation
component. For example, manipulating extraverted behavior in the lab leads most directly to
activated pleasant feelings, along with lesser degrees of arousal and merely pleasant feelings
(McNiel, Lowman, & Fleeson, 2010). Trait extraverts often show increased emotional reactivity
to positive incentive mood inductions, but this too appears primarily in activated pleasant
feelings (Lucas & Baird, 2004; Smillie, Cooper, Wilt, & Revelle, 2012). In addition, when asked
which emotions they would ideally like to feel, introverts tend to choose lower arousal and
somewhat less pleasant emotions (Rusting & Larsen, 1995). Turning to actual experience,
approach motivation (BAS), a trait similar to extraversion, moderates the within-person
correlation between pleasantness and arousal (Kuppens, 2008). That is, high approach people
(extraverts) have a positive correlation between arousal and valence in momentary feelings,
whereas low approach people (introverts) have a negative correlation (i.e., introverts feel better
when they feel less aroused). Thus, if happiness is defined solely as activated positive affect,
introverts may not even want to be happy (at least as much as extraverts). Indeed, the correlation
between extraversion and pleasant affect tends to be stronger for aroused states; however, the
correlation does not reverse with lower arousal pleasant states (e.g., Mitte & Kämpfe, 2008;
Rusting & Larsen, 1995; Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006; Zelenski & Larsen, 1999). Moreover,
two important meta-analyses confirm that the pure pleasantness dimension (moderate arousal) is
clearly correlated negatively with introversion, but that the magnitude is somewhat smaller
compared to activated pleasant affect (Lucas & Fujita, 2000; Steel, Schmidt, & Shultz, 2008). In
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 9
the largest and most recent meta-analysis, Steel and colleagues (2008) reported a small
correlation with negative affect, suggesting that extraversion might even predict more low
arousal positive feelings (e.g., relaxed or content, the pole opposite high activated unpleasant
affect in a circumplex model). Thus, the particular type of pleasant affect seems to moderate the
strength of the extraversion-happiness link, but still no specific affects favor introversion.
Considering other aspects of happiness (e.g., life satisfaction, meaning), we still fail to
find evidence that introverts are happier. For example, our objecting introverts often tell us that
they have meaning in their lives, are satisfied, and that this is more important than ecstasy. The
data, however, suggest that even on these measures, introverts score lower than extraverts. For
example, introverts score lower than extraverts across all scales of Ryff’s (1989) psychological
well-being inventory (Abbott et al., 2008; Cooper, Okamura, & McNeil, 1995). More
comprehensively, meta-analyses show a clear positive association between life satisfaction and
extraversion (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998; Lucas & Fujita, 2000; Steel et al., 2008). Steel et al.
investigated a ‘quality of life’ category of happiness that included the Ryff scales and similar
others and again found a positive association with extraversion. Thus, we conclude that the
association between extraversion and happiness cannot be fully explained by biases in the
definition or measurement of happiness.
Objection #2: Extraversion measures are biased towards happiness. This objection
notes that some models/measures of extraversion actually include positive emotions as items or
facets (e.g., the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised). With this in mind, it is perhaps
unsurprising that they correlate with happiness, particularly the emotional facets of happiness. In
the “extreme form” needed to refute the idea that introverts are less happy, this objection
suggests that including positive affect confounds measurement, thus obscuring the ‘true’
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 10
association. A less extreme form must concede that positive affect is, in fact, a part of
extraversion, thus also conceding an association between happiness and extraversion. The strong
form is difficult to defend, however, because decades of factor analyses support the idea that
people who experience more positive affect also tend to be social, active, and assertive (i.e., they
also have the other facets of broad extraversion). Thus, based on the logic of factor analysis
alone, we would expect that other facets of extraversion would correlate with positive affect
whether it is viewed as part of the broad construct or as a criterion variable. In other words,
removing positive affect from a broader extraversion measure should not substantially alter that
broader measure’s association with happiness (see Steel et al., 2008, p. 140 for examples).
Turning to the data, it appears possible that a construct akin to positive emotionality
could be the common core that links facets of extraversion with subjective well-being. For
example, facets like sociability and assertiveness predict life satisfaction considerably worse than
cheerfulness or positive emotion (Schimmack, Oishi, Furr, & Funder, 2009). Nonetheless, the
extent to which positive emotionality is explicitly included in measures of broad extraversion
does not seem to influence the correlations with happiness very much. For example, the two
meta-analyses that explored this issue found that the NEO (which includes a positive emotions
facet) and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (which does not) correlate with various
happiness indicators (positive affect, life satisfaction, quality of life, etc.) very similarly (Lucas
& Fujita, 2000; Steel et al., 2008). Interestingly, however, the Eysenck Personality Inventory,
which differs from the EPQ by including a substantial impulsivity component, tends to correlate
with happiness indicators significantly less strongly than the EPQ or NEO. Thus, the particular
facets of introversion-extraversion can have some influence on the magnitude of the happiness
link. That said, we cannot conclude that a positive affect confound explains the association.
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 11
Rather, valid overlap between the constructs of extraversion and well-being require theoretical
explanations (as we discuss in a later section).
Objection #3: Introverts are happier in cultures that aren’t so individualistic. This
objection does not fully refute the idea that introverts report less happiness, but it suggests a
boundary condition. That is, much of the research on extraversion and happiness is conducted in
Western cultures that prize individualism and assertiveness (particularly the United States); the
pattern might be different in cultures that place greater value on thoughtfulness, passivity, and
quiet reflection (see Chapter 6, this volume). Furthermore, introverts in individualistic cultures
might be happier if people just stopped expecting them to act more extraverted.
Turning to the data, this objection has some merit, but cannot be true in its strongest form.
That is, no culture appears to produce introverts that report more happiness than their extraverts.
However, cultural differences appear to moderate the strength of the extraversion-happiness
association. For example, Lucas et al. (1999) found a positive correlation between extraversion
and positive affect across 39 different cultures, yet they also found that social situations were
more rewarding in individualist cultures. Similarly, Fulmer et al. (2010) reported that
extraversion predicted life satisfaction, positive affect, self-esteem, and overall happiness more
strongly in cultures that tended to have higher levels of average extraversion. In other words,
having a personality that fit the culture was associated with higher subjective well-being. The
particular manifestation of introversion might also be important. For example Chen, Wang, and
Cao (2011) found that, among Chinese children, shyness predicts happiness whereas
unsociability predicted unhappiness. They explain that the social inhibition of shyness is valued,
whereas a diminished interest in connecting with others violates cultural norms (though these
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 12
associations may also change along with Chinese culture over time, see Chen, Cen, Li, & He,
Other data suggest that the particular operationalization of happiness might be important.
That is, extraversion may predispose people to experience positive affect regardless of culture,
but the satisfaction that follows might depend on cultural factors (Schimmack, Radhakrishnan,
Oishi, Dzokoto, & Ahadi, 2002). Consistent with this idea, Hong Kong Chinese and Asian
Americans seem to value low arousal pleasant affect, whereas Anglo Americans view high
arousal pleasant affect as ideal (Tsai et al., 2006). Although extraverts experience more high
arousal positive affect across all these cultures, the discrepancy in ideal affect enhances or
diminishes overall well-being.
Objection #4: Introverts have fewer, but stronger, friendships --enough to create
happiness. This objection assumes that good interpersonal relationships are a primary cause of
happiness, and that introverts’ superior relationships cause them greater happiness. We have
already reviewed sufficient evidence indicating that introverts are less happy than extraverts, and
thus, this objection must be false in its strong form. However, it is worth further considering the
links among introversion, social relationships, and happiness.
First, introverts do have friends and do engage in social activities. Moreover, introverts
appear to enjoy socializing as much, if not more, than extraverts (Fleeson et al, 2002; Lucas et al.,
2008; Srivastava et al., 2008). Introverts are not necessarily shy; social anxiety is much more
related to trait neuroticism. Moreover, they have social skills equal to extraverts’, though some
contexts may obscure those skills (Lieberman & Rosenthal, 2001). In addition, strong
interpersonal relationships appear important to happiness. Diener and Seligman (2002)
concluded that such relationships were likely the only necessary (but still not sufficient)
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 13
condition for extreme happiness. The happiest people had stronger friend, family, and romantic
relationships. However, both the quality and the quantity of social interactions were important.
The happiest people also reported spending the least time alone and the most time with their
family, friends, and partners in daily reports. This result was corroborated by another study that
coded momentarily sampled audio recordings (Mehl, Vazire, Holleran, & Clark, 2010). The
study also found that happy people had more substantive conversation and less small talk, but
introversion-extraversion did not explain the difference. We have already reviewed evidence
suggesting that introverts spend more time alone, and thus extraverts likely derive more benefit
from their larger quantity of social interaction.
It also seems that, contrary to the intuitions of our objectors, extraverts may have higher
quality social relationships. The association with quality is weaker and less consistent than with
quantity, but there are some suggestions. For example, in a longitudinal study of new university
students, introverts consistently (i.e., over many time periods) perceived less support from their
peers (Asendorpf & Wilpers, 1998). On the other hand, introversion-extraversion was not
significantly associated with conflict in these relationships. Other research suggests that
introverts report lower global relationship quality and that introversion is correlated with
avoidant and insecure attachment styles, a suboptimal profile (Noftle & Shaver, 2006; see also
Chapter 3 this volume). Attachment appeared much more important to relationship satisfaction
than extraversion, but the data make it very hard to argue that introverts have better relationships
than extraverts. Additionally, other factors such as agreeableness, emotional stability, and
conscientiousness appear more important to romantic relationships than introversion-
extraversion (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997; Kelly & Conley, 1987). Thus, despite some
associations, it appears that the quantity of social relationships and time spent socializing likely
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 14
contributes more to the difference between introverts’ and extraverts’ happiness than differences
in the quality of those social relationships.
Objection #5: C’mon!?! My introvert friend and I are happy. By this point in our
review, the data seem pretty clear: extraverts are happier than introverts. Nonetheless, many
introverts seem happy (cf. Hills & Argyle, 2001); how can this be? The answer is relatively
straightforward. Most people are happy (Diener & Diener, 1996), most of the time (Zelenski &
Larsen, 2000). That is, even very disadvantaged people report a hedonic balance and sense of
satisfaction that is above the mid-point of measurement scales. Moreover, pleasant emotions are
by far the most frequent in momentary experience. Thus, the research we have reviewed
suggests not that introverts are miserable, but simply that they are somewhat less happy than the
very happy extraverts. In addition, many other factors beyond trait extraversion predict
happiness. As a single predictor, extraversion does well compared to other predictors and is
often described as one of the best (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999), explaining as much as
28% of the variance in positive affect (disattenuated, Steel et al., 2008). That said, trait
neuroticism may be even stronger, especially for some (un)happiness indicators (see Vittersø &
Nilsen, 2002), and the interaction between introversion and neuroticism may further add
substantial predictive power (Lynn & Steel, 2006). In sum, most introverts are somewhat happy,
but it seems possible that they could become happier like their more extraverted friends.
Understanding what causes differences in introversion-extraversion may also suggest
reasons for why the trait predicts happiness. At a broad level, both traits and happiness are quite
(though far from completely) heritable, and likely have common genetic sources (Eid, Rietmann,
Angleitner, & Borkenau, 2003; Weiss, Bates, & Luciano, 2008). That is, the same genes may
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 15
contribute to both personality and happiness. A few theories of extraversion suggest
physiological causes that might stem from genetic variations and lead to differences in behavior.
For example, Eysenck (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985) argued that extraverts were cortically under-
aroused or less sensitive to external stimulation. Further assuming an optimal level of arousal,
he suggested that their bold, outgoing, lively approach to life provided the stimulation they
require, whereas introverts’ quieter demeanor helped avoid overstimulation. Eysenck’s
explanation is much broader, but helps explain why extraverts might seek out pleasant social
situations more than introverts, i.e., because such situations tend to be arousing. Although the
exact physiological mechanism that Eysenck proposed (cortical arousal) is probably incorrect,
the notion that greater participation in social activity might cause extraverts’ higher happiness
remains influential. Suggesting a slightly different cause, extraverts’ social participation and
resulting enjoyment may stem from being noticed; extraverts thrive on social attention, and their
enthusiastic demeanor may help attract it (Ashton, Lee, & Paunonen, 2002). Regardless of the
particular reason, extraverts do spend more time in social situations. However, it is less clear
whether this social interaction causes their happiness or whether their happiness causes social
In studies using day reconstruction and experience sampling methods, the amount of time
spent in social situations partially mediated the association between trait extraversion and
happiness (Lucas et al., 2008; Srivastava, et al., 2008). This suggests that extraverts might be
happier, in part, because they socialize more. Despite similar results, these authors diverge on
how persuasive they find the partial mediation. Both agree, however, that social participation
seems unlikely to fully account for extraverts’ happiness. Other research has used experimental
methods with short-term manipulations and extrapolated results to personality implications. For
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 16
example, Fleeson et al. (2002) found that asking participants to act extraverted produced
substantially more positive affect than asking them to act introverted, suggesting that sociability
might cause happiness. However, the instructions were broader than sociability, so it is possible
that other aspects of extraverted behavior (e.g., assertiveness, activity) instead produced the
positive affect. In addition, experimentally inducing positive moods seems to create feelings of
sociability and preferences for social situations (Whelan & Zelenski, 2012a), demonstrating that
the reverse causal direction is also possible. That is, happiness, or something like it, may cause
sociability or extraversion.
This possibility is consistent with another prominent collection of theories suggesting that
the causal core of extraversion is reward sensitivity or a propensity for positive affect more
directly (see Carver, Sutton, & Scheier, 2000; Elliot & Thrash, 2002; Zelenski & Larsen, 1999).
For example, Gray (1981; Gray & McNaughton, 2000) suggested that the conceptual personality
space defined by extraversion and neuroticism derived from two independent brain systems that
produce approach and avoidance motivation. Individual differences in the strengths of these
systems created the more observable traits of extraversion and neuroticism respectively.
Accordingly, extraverts are more likely to notice and respond vigorously to reward cues in the
environment, and likely experience more positive affect as a result. Consistent with this view,
extraverts respond to positive mood inductions with more positive affect than introverts (Larsen
& Ketelaar, 1991), particularly when pursuing incentives (Smillie et al., 2012). In addition,
extraverts tend to select pleasant rather than social situations when these factors vary
independently (Lucas & Diener, 2001), and reward sensitivity may link the other facets of
extraversion better than sociability (Lucas et al, 1999, but cf. Ashton et al., 2002). Moreover, as
our knowledge of relevant neurophysiology improves, it appears largely consistent with the
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 17
general idea of a reward system being important to extraversion, e.g., a role for dopamine
(Depue & Collins, 1999) and areas of the brain involved in reward processing and positive affect
being associated with extraversion (e.g., Canli, Sivers, Whitfield, Gotlib, & Gabrieli, 2002;
DeYoung et al, 2010; Hermes, Hagemann, Naumann, & Walter, 2011).
Slightly different than the reward reactivity view, it is also possible that extraverts simply
have higher baseline positive affect, largely regardless of situational variation (Gross, Sutton, &
Ketelaar, 1998; Lucas & Baird, 2004). This is not to say that they experience no hedonic
variability, but that their average ‘set point’ tends to be higher across most situations. Most
reactivity studies have been conducted in laboratory settings, and it is difficult to operationalize
and assess reward reactivity in daily life. That said, introverts enjoy social interactions about as
much as extraverts (Lucas et al., 2008; Srivastava et al., 2008), arguing against a ‘social
reactivity’ view (Argyle & Lu, 1990). Said another way, extraverts report more positive affect
than introverts even when alone.
From a more cognitive perspective, part of the happiness difference between introverts
and extraverts might be explained by differences in interpretation or mood regulation. That is,
introverts may be less prone to notice or seek out pleasant situations and experience, and less
likely to maintain positive feelings when they occur. Consistent with this idea, extraverts
maintain pleasant moods longer, while introverts maintain unpleasant moods longer, following
positive and negative laboratory mood inductions respectively (Hemenover, 2003). Extraverts
also maintained their pleasant moods better than introverts when confronted with an ambivalent
mood induction (i.e., with both pleasant and unpleasant aspects; Lischetzke & Eid, 2006).
Additionally, questionnaire data support the idea that mood maintenance ability, as an individual
difference, partially mediates the association between extraversion and subjective well-being
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 18
(Kämpfe & Mitte, 2010; Lischetzke & Eid, 2006). Extraverts also seem to choose pleasant
stimuli or situations more, at least in some contexts. For example, Tamir (2009) suggested that
pleasant moods might be more useful to extraverts, and showed that they chose positive tasks
and stimuli when they anticipated a future effortful task. That is, extraverts were more likely
than introverts to up-regulate mood, perhaps because they believed positive moods would help
their performance. Independent of current mood states, extraverts also display positive cognitive
biases (Rusting, 1998; Zelenski 2008). For example, extraverts rate the likelihood of positive
future events as higher (Zelenski & Larsen, 2002), evaluate hypothetical events more positively
(Uziel, 2006), interpret ambiguous homophones more positively (Rusting, 1999), and write more
positive story completions than introverts (Rusting, 1999). In short, extraverts appear more
prone to positive thoughts, and this might help them seek out and maintain pleasant moods. Of
course it is also possible that frequently experiencing happiness helped shape extraverts’ positive
cognitive biases over time.
A final explanation suggests that social pressures, stigma, subtle discrimination, etc.
might contribute to introverts’ diminished well-being, particularly in more extraverted societies
(cf. Cain, 2012). Interestingly, introverts in US samples do not see themselves as any less
‘normal’ than extraverts, but extraverts do see themselves as more unique than introverts do
(Wood, Gosling, & Potter, 2007). Although examples of introverts having difficulty fitting in
are easily imagined (e.g., parties, group work, public speaking), it is unclear whether they
outnumber examples of extraverts having difficulty conforming to situational norms (e.g.,
libraries, individual projects, yoga). Clearly more empirical work is needed to assess the validity
of a stigma explanation.
Conclusions and Directions for Future Research
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 19
In sum, it is clear that extraversion predicts happiness. Although the strength of this
association depends somewhat on how happiness and extraversion are defined, the general link
remains robust. Many potential explanations for extraverts’ higher happiness exist, and it seems
likely that more than one could be correct. Future research will be useful in further developing
these process explanations. At present, social participation, reward reactivity, set point, and
mood maintenance views are all somewhat supported. There is considerably less support for the
ideas that extraverts fit social situations better or enjoy social situations more than introverts. In
fact, virtually everyone seems to enjoy socializing more than spending time alone.
With this in mind, it seems useful to ask the question: would introverts be happier if they
acted more like extraverts? Traits and their links with happiness are fairly stable over time
(Abbott et al., 2008; Costa & McCrae, 1980), but there is some nontrivial change too (Roberts &
DelVecchio, 2000). Moreover, changes in trait extraversion (and neuroticism) seem to co-occur
with, and may even precede, changes in happiness (Scollon & Diener, 2006; Boyce, Wood, &
Powdthavee, 2012). In the short term, introverts are clearly capable of extraverted behavior, and,
in fact, exhibit it quite often (Fleeson & Gallaher, 2009). Moreover, when introverts act
extraverted in their daily lives, they experience more positive affect, just as extraverts do, and
this pattern holds across contexts (Fleeson et al., 2002); introverts are not just enjoying dancing
boldly while alone in their apartments. Even when instructed to act extraverted in lab settings,
introverts still report substantially more enjoyment compared to when instructed to act
introverted, or when they receive no instructions (McNiel & Fleeson, 2006; Zelenski, Santoro, &
Whelan, 2012). It is possible that hidden costs mitigate the happiness benefit of acting
extraverted, but these costs have been elusive in empirical work. For example, when instructed
to act extraverted, introverts do not experience concurrent negative affect, show indications of
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 20
self-regulatory depletion (Zelenski et al., 2012), or report greater effortfulness (Gallagher,
Fleeson, & Hoyle, 2011). In fact, trait introverts even report feeling more authentic when they
behave extraverted compared to when they behave introverted (though only if you ask them in
the moment; they retrospect the opposite; Fleeson & Wilt, 2010; Whelan & Zelenski, 2012b).
Thus, the evidence to date suggests that acting extraverted is both possible and potentially
beneficial for trait introverts. An important caveat is that the costs of this counter-dispositional
behavior have not been assessed over the long term (cf. Little, 2008). It remains plausible that
prolonged periods of extraverted behavior would drain trait introverts, or that the negative
consequences do not appear until after time has passed.
Finally, as much as extraversion, both as a trait and momentary behavior, seems to
promote positive affect, we also recognize that there are other important things in life, and other
“tradeoffs” that come with being more or less introverted. For example, introverts appear to
more easily regulate their behavior; extraverts suffer cognitive and emotional deficits when
asked to act introverted (Gallagher et al., 2011; Zelenski et al., 2012). Taking an evolutionary
perspective, Nettle (2006) suggests that extraverts benefit from having more sexual partners and
exploration than introverts, but that they also suffer because of their risks (e.g., with injuries,
family instability). In addition, introverts do better on problem solving tasks (e.g., Moutafi,
Furnham, & Crump, 2003) and academic knowledge tests (Rolfhus & Ackerman, 1999). Our
purpose here is not to review all the ways introverts outperform extraverts, but rather to
acknowledge via a few examples that being extraverted is not necessarily better than being
introverted. Extraversion is, however, clearly more conducive to happiness, and thus trait
introverts might seriously consider adding a little more extraverted behavior to their days.
HAPPY INTROVERTS? 21
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