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Personality and self

Here are the benefits - and downsides - of being extraverted

There’s no denying that extraversion has its advantages — but is the personality trait all it’s cracked up to be?

15 August 2022

By Emma Young

As we're such a social species, it's no wonder that we prize extraversion. In fact, according to a UK study that hit headlines at the time, new mothers put extraversion above even intelligence and conscientiousness on their list of most wished-for traits in their children. But is this personality trait really all that it's cracked up to be?

Benefits at work

A massive 2019 review of 97 meta-analyses of studies exploring links between extraversion scores and workplace success concluded that the trait "confers a pervasive and robust advantage": compared with introverts, extraverts were more motivated to do well, got on better with others, felt more positively about life (including challenges at work), and got better employer evaluations. But extraversion encompasses a number of more specific aspects, or facets. And the researchers found that while some were clearly linked to greater workplace success (namely: enthusiasm, assertiveness, positive emotion and dominance), others (sociability and being sensation-seeking) were not. So, though being highly sociable is arguably the best-known characteristic of extraversion, this was not as important for getting a job, or doing well at it, as some of the other facets. And if you're not naturally much of an extravert then, depending on your goals, this might influence which aspects of extraversion you try to ape….

Faking it

Extraverts tend not only to do better at work, but also to be happier. But can pretending to be an extravert make you happier, too? According to some recent work, the answer is a qualified "yes". In 2019, we reported on a US study that encouraged people to be more extraverted for a week. They were asked to be as "talkative", "assertive", and "spontaneous" as possible — and they reported feeling more positive emotions during this period. (When they were asked to spend a week being more introverted — to act more "deliberate", "quiet", and "reserved" — their wellbeing took a hit.)

However, another study found that for people who are particularly introverted, acting "like an extravert" — which in this case meant trying to be more excited, lively and enthusiastic — can be so exhausting that it actually increases negative emotions. Still, even introverts benefit from a behaviour typically associated with extraversion: striking up a conversation with a stranger.

No more trustworthy

Though extraversion is associated with all kinds of benefits and advantages, these do have their limits. As we reported earlier this year, we don't trust extraverts any more than we trust introverts, for example. In fact, according to this study, only one of the Big Five personality traits was linked with perceived trustworthiness: agreeableness. Other research goes even further, linking extraversion with a negative perception….

Looking the part

Though extraverts are usually portrayed as really caring about their relationships and possessing outstanding social skills, that's not necessarily how other people see them. A US study found that more extraverted people are actually perceived to be poorer listeners. Why? The participants felt that extraverts were better at controlling and modifying how they come across to others. "To observers, this signal of malleable self-presentation suggests that extraverts are more interested in 'looking the part' than attending to what others have to say," the team concluded.

The extraversion sweet spot

Of course, extraversion scores fall along a continuum. And some research certainly suggests that it is not a case of the greater the score, the better. One study looked at the personalities and perceptions of the informal leaders of student groups in the US and also employees of a large retail company in China. In both groups, leaders who were extraverted tended to be better liked and were seen as being better sources of advice — but only up to a point. Those who rated themselves as extremely warm and friendly were liked less than those with somewhat lower self-ratings. The team thinks that many of us might find especially warm and enthusiastic people overwhelming. 

While it used to be thought that our personalities were pretty much set in early adulthood, that thinking has changed. And you don't have to look far on the internet to find all kinds of advice on how to become more extraverted. But while it's undeniably true that extraversion is associated with a suite of benefits, recent work also reveals that it's not a completely unmitigated "good thing".