Some people dread going out. Others shine when the agenda calls for air kisses and boozy banter. But regardless of where we fall on the introvert-to-extrovert scale, socializing is taxing for all of us. In a new study, psychologists from the University of Helsinki found a link between extroverted behavior and mental fatigue.
We all have a social butterfly inside us. While our personalities tend to remain stable over time, research suggests that most people — intros, extras, ambis, innies, outies — cycle through the spectrum of the "Big Five" traits on a daily basis. (To psychologists, the BF are a BFD. In no particular order, the traits are: openness to experience, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.) In other words, most of us go off-brand on a regular basis.
Traditionally, research has linked extroverted behavior — being outgoing and social — with happiness and low fatigue. This makes sense: As researchers wrote in the paper, which was published in the Journal of Personality, "given that being active, energetic and enthusiastic are integral components of extroversion, it is highly likely that people do not feel tired when they are actually acting in an extroverted way or immediately afterwards."
But, as royals, celebutantes and that mean sorority girl who went viral well know, being the belle of the ball ain't easy. So, researchers wondered if people would feel drained after the upper effect of extroversion wears off. Following the logic of "what goes up must come down," they predicted that extroverted behavior would correspond to mental fatigue a few hours later. They also sought to see if episodes of extroversion affect introverts and extroverts differently, the idea being that people who are naturally drawn to social situations will find them less enervating.
For the study, 48 university students (mostly women, all white) completed self-assessments five times a day for 12 days. Specifically, they rated their moods and behavior, and described what they were doing (in terms of social activities and work), roughly every three hours from 9 am to 9 pm, and texted the reports to researchers. Participants displayed extroversion, researchers explained, when they were talkative or sociable. After the trial ended, participants also took personality tests.
Supporting previous work, researchers found a link between better moods and behavior reflecting emotional stability, extroversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness. As they predicted, however, participants reported increased fatigue about three hours after getting chatty or otherwise interacting with other humans.
The delayed fatigue showed up for extroverts and introverts alike, contradicting researchers' assumption that socializing would be more taxing for introverts. But, it's possible that introverts and extroverts have different standards for what constitutes an intense social situation, and that introverts felt drained from interactions that wouldn't faze a people person. The results, researchers wrote, show "that in the course of daily life, extroverted behavior has the potential to make one happy and energetic in the short run but tired in the long run."
Researchers didn't find any one type of social situation that left participants disproportionately drained. But, one detail did emerge as relevant: The number of people with whom participants socialized. So, attending crowded parties took more out of people than catching up with a few good friends did.
Still, despite linking extroversion and delayed fatigue, researchers didn't indulge the "good news for introverts" narrative. They decided the benefits of extroversion, including happiness, outweigh the drawbacks:"It seems likely that the fatigue following such behavior is a price worth paying."
So, which personality type gets the win? Neither. Everyone knows it's an ambivert's world.