Extroversion Bias

What factors influence the people we gravitate towards in new situations? Are these factors the factors that ought to influence our social decisions?

If I’m in a social situation with several new people, I’m naturally going to gravitate towards that outwardly warm and bubbly one, the one who is more likely to talk and emote and carries the conversation. Most other people do this too. This isn’t surprising: When faced with a choice, people want to engage (consciously or subconsciously) in social situations that are low cost as opposed to high cost. An extroverted individual is easier to talk to; you don’t have to pry information out of them or worry about coming up with new strands of conversation. When meeting new people, there are a few factors to discriminate by and one of those factors is how extroverted an individual is. So, naturally, when introduced to new people, people will gravitate towards extroverts due to the lower cost of conversing with them.*

*Of course, there’s also the fact that extroverts are more likely to approach you initially, increasing the probability that you would interact with them as opposed to introverts.

The problem with this natural inclination is that it biases us to disproportionately meet extroverted individuals even though those individuals are not necessarily “better” on balance than more introverted individuals. There’s no reason that introverted individuals are any “worse” than extroverted individuals, yet, most people still find themselves gravitating to the extroverts for the sake of ease. The result is that introverts are undervalued, at least initially.

I think there are a couple of ways to try to prevent this bias from being too strong:

1. If you are more introverted, try to signal friendliness. This doesn’t have to be verbal. As Gretchen Rubin, author of the excellent Happiness Project blog, explains:

As obvious as it seems, studies do show that I’ll be perceived as more friendly if I spend more time with a smile on my face during a conversation (it also helps to have an expressive face, to nod, to lean forward, to have a warm tone)…Emotions are contagious, so if I seem friendly and happy, I’ll help communicate that mood to other people…And attraction is reciprocal; we tend to like people who seem to like us. So if I’m smiling and friendly to a person, that person is more likely to feel friendly toward me…For a while…I tried to have a real conversation with all the people I encounter in my daily life: in my coffee shop, at the drug store, with people waiting in line. I found this draining and difficult, however. I admire people who can connect easily with others wherever they go, but this isn’t one of my gifts…But I realized that even if I can’t chat, I can be actively friendly. I can say “Hi” or “Sorry” or “Thanks” or “Have a great weekend” with warmth in my voice, and I can give a real smile…”

So, if you are more introverted, smile at a party or try to consciously make your greeting a bit more perky. This is a minor change and certainly shouldn’t compromise your personality, but it does make your potential social interaction more attractive to other people, including introverts who will likely feel a conversation with you is less risky or, in other words, less costly.

2. Think consciously about your bias in favor of extroverts. Consider if you find a person interesting because they actually are interesting to you, or simply because their warmth is contagious. There’s nothing wrong with liking warmth, but there are likely some very valuable new people you’re missing if that’s one of the main standards that you’re using. Force yourself to approach some of the quieter and isolated people in the room. They may have just as much if not more to offer than the obvious extrovert. In fact, there may even by systematic advantages to interacting more with introverts if you prefer deep and meaningful conversation. The very interesting introverted traveler, Sophia Dembling, explains:

Introversion and extroversion are inborn traits, and the difference between them is not that one is gregarious and at ease in the world and the other shy and awkward. Rather, extroverts are outwardly motivated and gain energy from interaction with the outside world while introverts are more inwardly directed and drained by interaction with others. Introverts’ thinking tends to be deep and slow, we require copious time alone, we prefer probing conversation to shallow chitchat, and our social lives are geared more towards intimate one-on-one interactions than “more the merrier” free-for-alls.”

I do think that this definition is slightly loaded. There are certainly some introverts who are shy and awkward and not into probing conversation. But, there are certainly plenty of introverts who do fit the archetype explained by the introverted traveler and, if you’re into meaningful relationships, then you certainly shouldn’t let a bias prevent you from interacting with them.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Josh – do you consider yourself and introvert or and extrovert (I love dichotomous thinking – NOT!)? Or somewhere in the middle. Inquiring minds want to know.

    Good points in the article – smiling is very important as is eye contact, a good handshake, and a martini.


  2. […] On understanding introverts (a subject Josh tackled back in 2009). […]


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