Fake It Until You Make It?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports introverts would be happier if they just acted like extroverts more often.

Really?

The Moms have some issues with this.

Big ones.

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KathyI will go ahead and estimate that I own 1000 books. I’m constantly maxing out the 50-book limit on my library card, too. I track book release dates like other people track movie releases, and sitting down with a new book by an author I love is one of my favorite things in the world. And if I have uninterrupted time to read that book in one or two big gulps? Bliss.

You know what else I love? Amusement parks. I love Skee-ball. I love funnel cakes and cotton candy. I love twirly, twisty, spinning rides, and I love roller coasters (warning: I’m a screamer). I love photo booths, and one day I WILL convince my family to do one of those old-timey dress up photo shoots with me.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the fact that I, an introvert, can enjoy an amusement park proves that introverts should totally act like extroverts. All the time! We’d be so much happier! Just, you know, get out there and have fun and stuff!

To which I say: Are you kidding me with this?

No one is saying that introverts can’t or don’t enjoy many of the same activities extroverts do. Yes, I love to read, but I also like talking with friends, even at (gasp!) parties. I’m currently obsessed with Netflixing “Friday Night Lights,” but I also enjoy going to real-live football games. And while you’re more likely to find me singing along with Coldplay alone in my car, I was there in the nosebleed section the last time they came to town.

But here’s the thing – those more intense activities, done for sustained periods of time, are draining for introverts. That’s why I have an issue with the second study cited in the Wall Street Journal article.

Dr. John Zelenski’s research, which was presented in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that introverts underestimated how much fun it would be to act extroverted and also overestimated how taxing it would be. But in these studies, which lasted only 20 minutes, the subjects were asked to do things like chat with a new person or work with a group to put a puzzle together.

That hardly sounds intense to me. In fact, that sounds like everyday life. What (I believe) is truly taxing for an introvert is the successive, repeated, sometimes undesired occasions when we are required to act extroverted throughout the course of a day. The study didn’t measure this. And it certainly wasn’t able to measure the effects of a major event like, say, a trip to an amusement park.

Yes, I love them. But I know that I’ll need time to recharge afterward, to regain the energy I expended having all that fun. So I don’t think, as the study suggests, that I’m talking myself out of enjoyable events by choosing not to spend every weekend at an amusement park. I think I’m being realistic and honoring my own temperament by not going so often that I collapse in a heap next to the Tilt-A-Whirl. Because, frankly, that doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

— Kathy

tiffany_head_128I am not a psychologist. I do not play one on TV, nor do I have any experience designing psychological research studies or interpreting their results. In fact, during my first read of the Zelenski study, with its many pages containing what looked like terrifyingly complicated equations, I had almost had a panic attack.

But I digress.

While the Wall Street Journal article offers additional and a somewhat contrary perspective towards the end of the piece, it goes without saying I disagree with the article’s, erm, dumbass title and the study Kathy references above.

Let me repeat:  I am not a social scientist. Multiple readings of Dr. Zelenski’s study, however, left me with the following questions:

  • Study subjects represent a very narrow demographic group — university undergraduate students.  Why the lack of diversity among participants?

Again, Survey Novice here, but I suspect a deeper and wider sample would generate vastly different results.  Kathy came up with the term “experienced introvert,” and I think improving the breadth and depth of the survey pool — to include people of different ages who are probably more comfortable in their own skins, and, more importantly, people from different life stages including parents, working professionals, and senior citizens — would offer a better representation of the general population.

  • What’s behind the descriptive word choices in the Method section, Materials subsection?

The language used in the extraverted instructions is unabashedly positive (“bold,” “adventurous,” “assertive”) while the word choices for the introverted instructions are decidedly negative (“lethargic,” “passive,” “unadventurous”). These words seem obviously biased to me and I wonder how their use might influence potential outcomes.

  • The study also relies on something called “affective forecasting,” defined by Psychology Today as:

                  Affective forecasting is predicting how you will feel in the future. As it turns out, we’re                       terrible at it. We’re not good judges of what will make us happy, and we have trouble                      seeing through the filter of the now. Our feelings in the present blind us to how we’ll                        make decisions in the future when we might be feeling differently.

If affective forecasting as a concept is weak sauce, doesn’t it follow that it would be a rather shaky foundation upon which to build a serious academic inquiry?

To be fair the authors do express reluctance to be “prescriptive,” yet the last lines of the study — “ … a few more moments of extraverted behavior might be good for their [introvert’s] happiness (even if they do not think so)” — make me want to deliver a karate kick to their collective shins.

One of my favorite Anna Quindlen quotes addresses the idea of giving up on being perfect and “beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Perfection doesn’t exist (whatever, Beyoncé), but pretending to be something you aren’t or to like doing something that you don’t is a long way from becoming yourself and being true to your inner disposition. And that, dear reader, is an enormous part of achieving happiness.

— Tiffany

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