Ever since that book about the power of introverts, people seem to have gotten really into introversion. Do a quick Google of “only introverts will understand” if you need a sampling. Somehow, it seems like we’ve ended up with stereotypes where introverts order pizza in bed and think deep important thoughts while extroverts prance around them setting things on fire and begging them to come out for a drink. I exaggerate, but one 2012 opinion article in The Telegraph goes as far as saying that in “a world without introverts … there’d be no art.”
Sure, it’s worth noting that everyone isn’t equally enthusiastic about social interaction, but as a personality trait, which way you’re verted is not quite as indicative of who you are and how you act as some seem to think. Enjoying reading books and spending time alone does not make you an introvert any more than enjoying mashed potatoes makes you a foodie.
And yet it seems that introversion is continually used as an explanation for all kinds of things that in studies, it’s not actually associated with—like being sensitive or imaginative. You can be both sensitive and introverted, but the research would say those are different traits.
The ever-brilliant Mallory Ortberg perhaps said it best in her post at The Toast titled “Sorry I Murdered Everyone, but I’m an Introvert.”
A new study pokes another hole in the classic conception of the introvert—that after spending time with other people, they need time to recharge, alone, and that this is what extroverts just don’t understand. As the culprit in Ortberg’s post put it, “I shouldn’t have killed them, but at the same time, it’s not wrong for me to need space to reflect and recharge before I’m ready to interact with people.”
The study tracked 48 students at Finnish universities, who reported via phone survey on their behavior and feelings five times a day for 12 days. After the 12 days passed, they took a personality test which measures what psychology calls the Big Five personality traits: neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extroversion.
Extroverted behavior, the researchers found, made people feel happier and less tired in the moment, but they were consistently more fatigued three hours later. This happened regardless of whether they scored as extroverted or introverted on the personality test, suggesting that everyone, regardless of their vert, needs some time to recharge after socializing. (People also needed time to recharge three hours after conscientious behavior—things like studying or working—which makes sense, since self-control takes a lot of energy.)
“For those who do feel depleted after social interaction … it may be pleasant to learn that such a reaction is quite normal (and does not imply that one is an introvert or that one is lazy),” the study reads.
The tightrope walk of personality research is that while personality traits do predict behavior, it’s also true that people act out of character a lot of the time. A normally agreeable person may find themselves snippy and short on patience around that one person they just can’t stand. Extroverts may be more reserved at work than at a party, and introverts may have a certain social group in which they do like being the center of attention.
As Scott Barry Kaufman explains in Scientific American, it’s not just a tendency to be social that identifies an extrovert—it’s being motivated to obtain the reward of social attention. (Introverts are less motivated by that.) So they tend to be more enthusiastic and intense in their socializing—but that doesn’t mean they don't still get tuckered out.
This is a small study, so it’s hardly the final word on the matter, but it’s in line with other research that shows the positive consequences of behaving in an extroverted way tend to be the same whether the person scores one way or the other on a personality test. (Those studies found that extroverted behavior consistently improved the mood of both introverts and extroverts, but didn’t look at how tired it made them after.)
So no one behaves like a stereotypical introvert or extrovert all the time. And a lot of the characteristics that are popularly ascribed to introverts may be the result of other traits, or as this study suggests, just a normal part of being human. Your vert is not your destiny, just a piece of a complex personality puzzle.