It’s A Question of Personality
Social distancing, keeping your distance, staying at home – many people believe that the corona crisis is the hour for the introvert. But one Australian researcher is convinced of the opposite.
In the spring, when the contact restrictions came into force and the first lockdown was imposed in some European countries, when employees moved into the home office and people all over the world were instructed in the use of Zoom, when keeping a distance became the new creed, special survival guides appeared on the Internet:
In personality research there are the so-called Big Five – five characteristics that are used as a basis to determine a person’s personality. It includes openness, conscientiousness, social compatibility, vulnerability – and also the question of whether a person is more extroverted or introverted.
You can think of extraversion and introversion as the two ends of a scale. The further a person tends to extraversion on this sociability scale, the more he focuses on external stimuli. People, hustle and bustle, parties, large groups – these are things that most people associate with extroverts.
And with introverts?
‘It really isn’t the worst for introverts to be at home alone,’ read a survival guide for extroverts. On a popular radio station, you could hear:
‘While the extroverts among us are longing more and more for the next party, the next concert or a barbecue evening at the lake, the introverts feel transported into a perfect world through self-isolation.’
And ‘Now beckons the hour for the introverted’ read some headlines in glossy magazines.
And now – more than half a year later? Now that the employees have moved back into the home office, where no one is interested in Zoom meetings and there is a new, more severe kind of shutdown again, quite severe in some countries, in others more mildly – what about the introverts now? Is your hour striking again? Did the articles and memes come true? Or is it ultimately perhaps even the introverts who need some kind of survival guide? And if so – why is that?
One scientist who has at least a rudimentary answer to these questions is Maryann Wei, PhD student in psychology at the University of Wollongong, Australia.
Wei writes that she too had seen the memes and essays about the alleged advantages of introverts in the spring, and found some of them quite funny. At the same time, however, she asked herself whether the thesis of the advantage of introverts does not fall short.
And so Wei did what scientists do in such a case: She looked for test subjects to find out whether it was actually true that introverts deal with the situation better than extroverts.
She interviewed 114 people, most of them Americans, but also British, Canadians, Australians and Germans. Admittedly; it is a small group, but enough to make some cautious statements.
It’s a question of anxiety, depressive moods, cognitive failures.
Using a questionnaire, Wei first recorded how introverted or extroverted the respondents are. And then how much they suffered psychologically from the Corona restriction measures: whether they showed signs of a depressive mood, whether they felt lonely, had to struggle with anxiety or whether they suddenly suffered cognitive failures – for example, they stood in the store and forgot had what they wanted to buy.
Wei’s result: Contrary to popular belief, the introverts suffered more psychologically than the extroverts.
The truth, as always, is more complex.
Wei herself was not surprised by the result; there are a number of explanations for this. Because often the view of the character traits ‘introversion’ and ‘extraversion’ is much too simplified. The truth, as always, is more complex.
For example, there is greater heterogeneity between introverts, than many people realize. And also factors that would have had a rather negative effect during the Corona measures. As a rule, introverts are less able to cope with the loss of structures. They’re more prone to brooding anyway, while extroverts tend to be more optimistic.
Above all, however, they tend to identify problems with themselves and withdraw from difficulties instead of seeking help.
Wei’s study is not about who is worse off, or whether it might have needed a survival guide for introverts. She draws a very simple consequence from her results:
‘Ask the introverts around you from time to time how they are doing.’
If in doubt, the extroverts will tell you without asking.