Back around a year ago, when health authorities started warning everyone to avoid crowds and stay home, introverts certainly didn’t cheer, but at least a few of us thought, ‘OK, I’ve got this.’ Who is better placed to weather lockdowns than the type of people who thrive spending time at home alone?
A year on, we now have the data to say whether introverts’ hunch that while absolutely no one enjoys a pandemic, their personality gave them a leg up in getting through a hugely difficult time was correct. Turns out that intuition was exactly backwards. New research reveals it was actually extroverts who coped better with this year’s many restrictions.
On The Conversation recently, De Montfort University psychologist Lis Ku rounded up recent studies looking at how different personality types fared during the pandemic, and according to her telling all this science points in one direction — extroverts did a lot better than many people (including probably quite a few extroverts) expected.
“Recent studies have found that introversion was predictive of more severe loneliness, anxiety, and depression after the circumstantial changes brought about by the pandemic. Extroversion, meanwhile, was correlated with lower levels of anxiety and a lower likelihood of experiencing mental health issues during lockdown,” Lu sums up.
And while introverts did report that their moods improved slightly during lockdown while extroverts’ moods drooped, extroverts started with such a big advantage in their average levels of cheerfulness “they still reported an overall more positive mood than their introverted peers,” Ku notes.
Why extroverts are more resilient
Why did extroverts remain remarkably cheery despite losing so much of the social connection they need to thrive? Ku offers a couple of theories. One not only explains the counterintuitive findings but also suggests ways those who are struggling with isolation might be able to learn to cope better.
First, lockdowns often didn’t lead to the pleasant solitude introverts first dreamed of. Many quickly realized that being stuck in the house with your family isn’t restful (or productive).
There’s not much any individual can do about health restrictions that keep everyone cooped up together, but Ku’s other explanation for extroverts’ resilience suggests a more practical takeaway. She points to research on extroverts’ ability to cope with stress generally that “found that extroversion was related to more problem-solving coping strategies such as seeking emotional support.”
When faced with a crisis, extroverts, being extroverts, are more likely to reach out to others (and also more likely to opt for other healthy coping strategies like exercise). That means that when the pandemic struck and the social butterflies among us realized the full scope of the challenges ahead, they didn’t sit around fretting, they set up a remote happy hour with friends or went for a run.
Ku stresses that extroversion-introversion is only one aspect of personality and that an individual’s response to crises cannot be predicted by just this one trait. That’s true, but the general difference between introverts and extroverts during the pandemic is nonetheless useful. Personality matters in how well we stand up to trials, but mostly as a predictor of behavior. Extroverts likely did better this year because of the coping strategies they employed, coping strategies that anyone can use.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking your underlying level of introversion or extroversion is a curse or a gift when facing a challenge. What matters is what you do, not which boxes you tick on a psychological inventory. And while introverts might need to muster more effort to organize a hangout or hike, if we do, we can weather crises as well as any extrovert.
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