4 Myths About Extroversion We're Guilty of Believing
The introvert revolution has revolutionized how we view our personalities. Is it true that extroverts have shallow relationships and draw energy from others like a vampire? Not so fast. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen concludes our two-part series by busting 4 myths of extroversion.
A few weeks ago, I saw a cute online cartoon titled “Introvert Starter Kit,” with drawings of fuzzy pants, a cup of herbal tea, a stack of books, and a cat. I searched for an extrovert equivalent, but none were to be found. The introvert revolution, for all its good, has negatively stereotyped extroverts as fast-talking spotlight-hogging party animals. For better or worse, my guess is that an “extrovert starter kit” would feature a bullhorn, one of those double-barrelled beer can hats, and a red plastic Solo cup.
Do these hold true? Not necessarily. Therefore, this week, we’ll round out our two-part series on the myths of introverts and extroverts by busting four myths of extroversion.
Myth #1: Extroverts have many shallow relationships.
If the introvert movement has proudly proclaimed that still waters run deep, the side effect is that extroverts are, by contrast, as shallow as puddles.
But this myth presents a false choice. You don’t need to be an introvert to get close to someone, nor do you need to be an extrovert to have a large network.
Now, it is true that extroverts do tend to have larger social circles. This happens for a couple of reasons. First is the simple fact that extroverts tend to initiate social interaction and spend more time socializing than introverts. This greater frequency and duration naturally leads to more chances to form friendships.
Next, there’s a phenomenon called extrovert homophily, which is the tendency for extroverts to associate with extroverts. Similar people choose to enter similar situations, which increases their opportunity to connect. For all these reasons, extroverts are more likely to have larger social networks.
But this doesn’t mean that extrovert relationships are necessarily shallow. Indeed, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Research in Personality, there’s no direct link between extroversion and relationship satisfaction.
Myth #2: Extroverts feel energized by interacting with others.
This statement is true; it’s not actually a myth unto itself. What makes it a myth is that it’s not the whole truth. The reality is that extroverts and introverts feel energized by social interaction.
A groundbreaking study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology instructed super-introverts and super-extroverts, defined as those in the top or bottom 20% of an extroversion scale, to act introverted or extroverted during a group task.
Whether they were natural introverts or natural extroverts, everyone reported enjoying the discussion more when they were assigned to act extroverted.
Introverts might have to psych themselves up to be “on” and recover more after a social interaction, but it’s not as if the socializing itself is torture. If it is, then we’re in the realm of social anxiety.
Myth #3: Extroverts don’t get social anxiety.
It’s easy to see how this myth got started. Introversion and social anxiety can easily get conflated by looking at how people act on the surface. In the wilds of humankind, introverts can often be found in solitude, as can those with social anxiety.
Plus, less structured, highly stimulating activities like parties, impromptu get-togethers, or conferences might be avoided by both introverts and socially anxious types.
But look under the hood at why this happens and things start to diverge. For an introvert, avoiding high-stimulation social activities is preference. But for the socially anxious, it’s fear of social judgment.
Being a socially anxious extrovert is an unenviable position—imagine getting your energy from people while simultaneously being afraid of their judgment.
Social anxiety stems from a fear that a perceived inadequacy will become obvious to everyone and we’ll be judged or rejected as a result. And perceived inadequacies span all personality types. A socially anxious extrovert might love parties but worry no one wants him there. Or she may want to meet up with friends for a night out, but think they’re just inviting her to be polite. He may get a rush from teaching a class but be convinced his students are silently judging him.
To complicate things, extroverts get a lot of social feedback, simply because they interact more often and with more people. And not all feedback is good. As we all know, it’s the negative feedback that sticks with us and can feed those perceived inadequacies.
In short, being a socially anxious extrovert is an unenviable position—imagine getting your energy from people while simultaneously being afraid of their judgment. It leaves you between a rock and an angsty place: lethargic and bored, or filled with social dread.
Myth #4: Extroverts don’t have to recharge.
If I had a nickel for everyone who told me they never had to recharge I would have exactly zero nickels. In fact, this myth makes a lot of extroverts mistakenly identify as introverts.
In truth, everyone has to recharge. Even the most extroverted of extroverts recharge. Think Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, both notorious extroverts, respectively retreating into books or painting.
The science backs this up: A study from the University of Helsinki found that, in the moment, extroverted behavior, regardless of whether one is an introvert or an extrovert, hung together with a more positive mood and greater energy. However, fast-forward three hours and extroverted behavior is also related to higher fatigue. In the study, the more people the participant encountered, the greater the fatigue three hours later, regardless of whether the participant was an introvert or extrovert.
So if you get tired and need to recharge after a party, conference, or wedding reception, it’s not because you’re an introvert, it’s because you’re human.
This all makes sense: no matter how our personalities are wired, humans are social animals; we need each other for community and belonging. And it turns out the introvert/extrovert split isn’t as stark as we think. So let’s all celebrate! Wear your fuzzy pants or your beer helmet and you can put whatever you want in your red Solo cup. Even herbal tea. Remember, zero judgment.
Order Ellen's book HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. Get even more savvy tips to be happier and healthier by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or get each episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.
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