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Extroversion is More Than a Trait, It’s an Adaptive Tool

People interacting while sitting at a table.

Researchers from Michigan State University have discovered two insights related to extroversion and personality beliefs that can influence behavior and well-being.

Jason Huang, an associate professor in the MSU School of Human Resources and Labor Relations in the College of Social Scienceand former doctoral student DongyuanWu have found a nuanced way that people adapt their behavior during interactions with otherthat can also affect their satisfaction with a social experience.

The research was published online Dec. 2 in the Journal of Individual Differences.

“We make observations of people and their personalities,” Huang said. “If someone is generally quite talkative and energetic then we would call them an extrovert, but this general tendency does not accurately capture how people respond to different social interactions with different cues.

During a three-week observation period, Huang and Wu surveyed more than 80 college students daily and found that being an extrovert is not only a personality traitbut also an adaptive behavior. Extroverts are characterized as sociable and gregarious but even introverts, characterized as being shy or quiet, can deploy extroversion as a contingency in certain social situations.

Attending a conference for work where an introvert needto meet and interact with a large group of new people might trigger extroverted behavior. People are also more likely to show extroverted behavior when they are interacting with friendly people.

“We call this adaptive tendency other-contingent extroversion,” Huang said. “This describethmoment-to-moment change in behavior when people generally switch to extroversion in order to adapt to cordial situation.”

Previous studies have shown a link between extroversion and increased satisfaction. So, Huang and Wu sought to understand if contingent extroversion was also linked to increased happiness. Since behavior also influences what humans think and believethey also examined whether the relationship between contingent extroversion and satisfaction depended on whether people believed their personality traits were fixed or flexible.  

“If they think personality traits are flexible, they (the students surveyed) were more likely to be satisfied with their college experience when they acted extroverted in response to friendly others,” Huang said. “But for those who think personality traits are fixed but still acted in that way then there was a conflict between their behavior and beliefsand they reported being less satisfied with their college experience.”

How can this information help people live their beliefs and have greater life satisfaction?

“People need to interact with others based on how they see themselves and how they want to behave,” Huang said. “Behave in a way that you feel you should behave. Be true to yourself, and you are likely to be more satisfied in your environment.”

Emilie Lorditch via MSU Today

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