If you are an introvert, force yourself to be an extravert. You'll be happier.
That's the suggestion of the first-ever study asking people to act like extraverts for a prolonged period. For one week, the 123 participants were asked to -- in some cases -- push the boundaries of their willingness to engage, by acting as extraverts. For another week, the same group was asked to act like introverts.
The benefits of extraversion have been reported before, including those of "forced extraversion," but usually only for brief intervals. In one study, train-riders were asked to talk to strangers; a control group was directed to remain silent. The talkers reported a more positive experience.
UC Riverside researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky wanted to extend the faux extraversion to see if it would result in better well-being.
"The findings suggest that changing one's social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extraverted way improves well-being," said Lyubomirsky, a UCR psychologist and co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
An initial challenge for this study was the presumption that extraversion -- as a trait rewarded in US culture -- is best. Many of the adjectives associated with extraversion are more flattering than those tied to introversion. Most people would rather be associated with words like "dynamic" than with words like "withdrawn."
So Lyubomirsky's team went for words agreed upon as most neutral. The adjectives for extraversion were "talkative," "assertive," and "spontaneous"; for introversion, "deliberate," "quiet," and "reserved."
Researchers next told participants -- both the Act Introvert group and the Act Extravert group -- that previous research found each set of behaviors are beneficial for college students.
Finally, the participants were told to go forth, and to be as talkative, assertive, and spontaneous as they could stand. Later, the same group was told to be deliberate, quiet, and reserved, or vice versa. Three times a week, participants were reminded of the behavioral change via emails.
According to all measures of well-being, participants reported greater well-being after the extraversion week, and decreases in well-being after the introversion week. Interestingly, faux extraverts reported no discomfort or ill effects.
"It showed that a manipulation to increase extraverted behavior substantially improved well-being," Lyubomirsky said. "Manipulating personality-relevant behavior over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful."
The researchers suggest that future experiments addressing this question may switch up some variables. The participants were college students, generally more malleable in terms of changing habits. Also, Lyubomirsky said, effects of "faking" extroversion could surface after a longer study period.