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Taking a look around a crowded room, you’re sure to observe differences in the way people interact and behave with each other or on their own. Based on their observable traits, you might assume that because someone seems more bubbly and outgoing they are generally more extroverted and perhaps more successful in work and relationships.
But why do we assume these things about people based on their personalities? And are we correct in doing so? Dr Jeromy Anglim is a Senior Lecturer from the School of Psychology at Deakin University, and says that these assumptions are not necessarily true.
Exploring the different aspects of an individual’s personality, the variation of traits, and the way these traits can change over time can give us greater insights into what it means to be extroverted or introverted.
There’s been some hype around the notion that society is set up to benefit extroverts and that introverts are somewhat disadvantaged – largely kick-started by author Susan Cain’s 2012 TED Talk on ‘the power of introverts’. But Dr Anglim believes differently: ‘A society where social interactions increasingly take place via smart phones, social media and the internet may benefit introverts. But generally, the link between extroversion and success in life is fairly weak to begin with, especially when it comes to work and study.’
Much of the research Dr Anglim has conducted explores the relationship between an individual’s personality and their likelihood for success. ‘The actual correlation of personality with outcomes like job performance and educational success is quite low. And certainly, extroversion’s role in achieve academic and work success is not that substantial.’
As a method of exploring the different aspects of introversion and extroversion, Dr Anglim explains how we can conceptualise the hierarchy of personality traits according to the Big 5 model. Extroversion is one of the five personality traits that can be perceived further ‘in terms of warmth, gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, excitement-seeking, and positive emotions.’
Interestingly, these traits and categories that make up your personality are not always fixed. Depending on the day and the method of assessment, a person’s level of extroversion or introversion can vary on a kind of continuum. As Dr Anglim explains, ‘any psychological measure is not perfectly reliable, such that for people who are close to the line, one day they might score above, and another day they might score below.’
The type of social setting you are a part of also influences your personality traits. ‘Personality describes the stable and general tendencies [but] people show dramatic variation within themselves in how they behave in a given social context,’ Dr Anglim says.
Twin studies conducted within the past decade indicate that there is a significant heritable component involved in an individual’s traits. Dr Anglim explains how one particular study ‘of approximately 20,000 Germans and 14,000 British found that extroversion and openness declined with age. In contrast, conscientiousness rose in people’s teens and 20s, and plateaued in their 40s.’
When trying to make positive behavioural changes, Dr Anglim suggests focusing on traits that aren’t central to your personality. ‘I don’t think it makes sense to try to change your fundamental traits. In general, behavioural change works better if you focus on a few specific habits or skills at one time. Public speaking skills can be learnt and practiced. Professional networking skills can be learnt and practiced. Leadership skills can be practiced and learnt.’
Think you know where you sit on the scale? Being a good talker doesn’t always mean you’re more of an extrovert. Take our quiz to find out whether you identify more as an introvert or an extrovert.
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