Extroverts are Happier and Healthier Later in Life

By Breanna Draxler | July 8, 2013 4:31 pm

happy old man extrovertA person’s outlook on life has been shown to affect everything from heart health, to how quickly they recover from illnesses, to life expectancy. New research shows one way such a positive outlook can be cultivated: by being extroverted.

The British study followed 4,583 people who were born in England, Scotland or Wales during the same week in March of 1946. When they reached age 16, and again at age 26, these participants filled out a survey to assess two aspects of their personalities: extroversion and neuroticism.

The questions about extroversion focused on a person’s energy level, whether or not that person was likely to participate in activities, and how social he or she was. Neuroticism-related questions looked at mood, emotional stability and how easily a person got distracted. In general, extroverts tend to be outgoing, curious and close to others whereas neurotic types tend to distance themselves from others, worry more and be less self-assured.

These personality traits, whether extroverted or neurotic, tended to remain consistent in participants over the ten years between surveys; those who exhibited extroversion at 16, for example, usually did at 26, too.

Early Extroverts

Decades later, when participants were between the ages of 60 and 64, researchers followed up again with the 2,661 participants they could wrangle, this time with a more in-depth assessment. In addition to the personality questions, the surveys asked participants about their overall well-being and their satisfaction with life.

To measure well-being, an obviously subjective concept, participants rated how often they felt good about themselves and their lives. Researchers presented 14 positively-worded statements like “I’ve been feeling optimistic about the future,” or  “I’ve been dealing with problems well.” Participants rated how often they felt each of these sentiments, on a scale of one (none of the time) to five (all of the time). A similar survey estimated life satisfaction. Participants were presented with a number of phrases like “The conditions of my life are excellent” and “I am satisfied with my life,” and were asked to rate these statements on a 7-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

Disposition Down the Road

The researchers ran the numbers and modeled the data. Although the definition of happiness can vary a lot from person to person, the results were clear and significant: Extroversion had a direct effect on well-being later in life. People who were more outgoing and social during their younger years reported being significantly happier and more satisfied later in life. And previous studies have found that such well-being often translates to more successful relationships at work and at home, lower mortality, and healthier physical and mental aging.

The effects of neuroticism were likewise significant, but in this case indirect. People who were more neurotic during their teens and twenties were much more susceptible to psychological distress and physical health problems later on, which in turn had negative effects on their well-being. Social class turned out to have no effect in either case, according to the findings which were published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

The researchers’ conclusion is pretty straightforward: “Personality dispositions by the time of early adulthood have an enduring influence on well-being decades later.” This means that teenage angst could be viewed as a public health issue rather than just a passing phase. It also means that encouraging curiosity and closeness in youngsters can directly impact their physical health in old age. So don’t worry; be happy!

Image courtesy of Zastolskiy Victor/Shutterstock

MORE ABOUT: aging, emotions
  • BarbaraSinclair

    Wow, unless I’m misinterpreting the article, it sounds like they’re implying that introverts are neurotic and less happy than extroverts. I couldn’t agree less. Extroverts are basically people that need to be around other people to recharge. Introverts recharge by being alone. Just because you prefer a quiet evening alone reading a book to a party with friends doesn’t make you neurotic or unhappy. Read Susan Cain’s Book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”.

    • Buddy199

      Agreed. Spending time with most of the extroverts I know is like being locked in a room with a TV blaring some inane day time show that you can’t turn off.

      • BarbaraSinclair

        :) Buddy199

      • Lauren L T Taylor

        Really mature and what a nice thing to say about people. Perhaps that’s why you are alone a lot… because you are rude.

        • Buddy199

          No, I’m alone a lot because I choose to only spend time with interesting people whenever possible, and am much happier and less drained for it.

          • Lauren L T Taylor

            Just saying; that comment was rude. Not all extroverts are super loud and mundane. Really close minded to assume that.

    • Kelly O’Brien

      I agree totally. And maybe we introverts would be happier if we didn’t have some extroverts in our faces telling us we’re not happy or something is wrong with us.

      • Glen

        So true. I love just being home doing my own thing, but I always feel guilty like I’m supposed to be, or expected to be out with friends doing generally uninteresting or inane things. Like it’s a social and societal expectation, and if I do what I truly want I’m doing something wrong.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if this increases stress. And giving in to going to some loud bar doesn’t decrease stress for an introvert.

        • Glen

          By-the-way. I wanted to add that it’s actually some of the extroverts who MAKE a person feel guilty about not being more socially active.

          Sometimes an extrovert will put you down or make seemingly benign but disapproving comments about not wanting to go out to some place you have no interest in going.

          I’ve yet to know the introvert who puts down an extrovert who goes out an enjoys what they like. I’m sure it happens, but it’s generally not something an introvert is prone to doing.

    • Lauren L T Taylor

      You guys only think that because you’re introverts. I am an extrovert. I don’t need to be around people all of the time. You guys sound a little hurt that you’re shy ;)

      • Taylor Rister

        I’m an introvert, but I’m the farthest thing from shy. I find people exhausting because they expect interaction, and I feel pressured to fulfill that expectation. A long day of being the life of the party leaves me feeling drained, so I go home and read a book or write so I can recharge. We’re not hurt because of the behavior we exhibit, and most of us aren’t shy. We’re hurt by the “you’re different because you don’t always need and/or want a social life, and different is wrong.” view that is often placed on us.

        • Lauren L T Taylor

          Just saying that everyone on here is bashing extroverts and I’m not crying about it. Could it be the reason extroverts are being bashed is because this article says we live longer and you guys don’t agree? What a way to disagree… to bash someone for who they are.

          • Arly Maulana

            Assuming that introverts are the way they are simply because they’re shy, well it’s “really close minded to assume that” (your own words) don’t you think?

          • Kelly O’Brien

            Hi Lauren, those of us that are introverts that are responding to this article are doing so because the article is equating introversion with neurosis. That comes across as very hurtful to us of the introverted nature. Some of us might be lashing out at extroverts because of that. Really, we should be lashing out at the authors of this study. (Of course, some people might really feel that way about extroverts…)

            Anyways, I for one don’t really care if one is introverted or extroverted. I just don’t like the implication that I’m sick or somehow unhappy as an introvert.

          • Lauren L T Taylor

            And I agree with you Kelly. Arly, I was joking about the shyness. I know plenty of introverts who are shy and am friends with lots of people who consider themselves introverted. Some of my best friends are introverts. Extroverts and introverts pair well in many situations. However, the people on this site bashing extroverts come off as pompous, rude, and neurotic… thus we come to the word mentioned in the article. Commenting rude and hurtful things about extroverts simply because an article you don’t like was written makes you look exactly that way: NEUROTIC. Not you Kelly; I definitely agree with you. The people bashing extroverts seems really unsure of themselves as people.

          • cdc2000

            “Some of my best friends are…(fill in the blank)” ROFL!!! This is the sort of thing people say when they are trying to deny their obvious bias. And why is it ‘rude’ for the people who disagree with you to state their opinions, but it’s not rude for you to do the same?

            I agree with others about the way this is written, i.e. misleading at best. And how about this: “those who exhibited extroversion at 16, for example, usually did at 26, too.” Amazingly, people had the same basic personality ten years later!

          • Taylor Rister

            I must’ve missed the part of my comment where I bashed extroverts. All I was trying to do was explain how introverts operate, and how or why this article may offend us. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe I mentioned extroverts anywhere in my comment.

    • Lauren L T Taylor

      I don’t think that introverts were even mentioned in this article. Everyone is taking this article a little too personally!

  • Camille S

    Personally, I think there’s a happy medium, but we are social creatures. Some extraverts are too loud/insensitive, some intraverts too shy/afraid. What affects us the most, positively or negatively, is other humans. Surround yourself with people who nurture you and you’ll shine. Being optimistic is what really makes a difference. It just happens that most extraverts are optimistic. Extraverts, please ensure you’re sensitive to the people around you. Introverts, be brave and welcome change into your life. Both, focus on the good, because what we focus on grows.

    • Kelly O’Brien

      Hi Camille, this isn’t a bravery thing or not being open to change. Like Barbara said, it’s about how you “recharge.” Being with groups of people is recharging for extroverts. For those of us who are introverted, it can be draining. It might sound strange to tell an extrovert to “be brave” and “be open to change” by spending an evening alone with a good book.

      • Camille S

        Hi Kelly! Sorry, you’re right. Being brave and bringing positive changes into our lives is for everyone. We don’t need a ton of people around us, just the right people, those that nurture us and that we love. However, it may be necessary to love some people from afar, because we must also love and take care of ourselves. I prone mostly optimism, sensitivity and freedom from fear (book or person), one small step at a time.

  • Stuntman06

    Perhaps extroverts tend to exaggerate and introverts are more modest about their happiness.

    • Glen

      Also a good possibility. Introverts are more introspective and thus likely to be more aware and honest about their feelings. While extroverts are more keyed in to creating an image for others to see that they feel will please others.

  • Buddy199

    Introvert / extrovert… If you’re with stimulating, interesting people you’ll be engaged and time flies by, you’ll be naturally extroverted by the situation. If you have to strain to be with people who really have nothing to say – and let’s face it… the weather, what their Facebook friends said today OMG!!, you want to see 57 pictures of my dog?, how ’bout dem Knicks! – you’ll probably be taken for introverted because you sit there with a forced smile while entertaining yourself in your own mind until it’s mercifully over.

    • Lauren L T Taylor

      And not all extroverted people are shallow and annoying… Close-minded to think that way.

      • Kelly O’Brien

        Okay, Buddy199 never said in his post that “all extroverted people are shallow and annoying.” He seems to be comparing stimulating and interesting people with “people who really have nothing to say.” You seem to be on the defensive for extroverted people and reading things into posts now that aren’t there.

        • Lauren L T Taylor

          “OMG you want to see 57 pictures of my dog” but enough about me let’s hear what you think about me”

          If that doesn’t scream shallow and annoying, I’m not sure what does Kelly. Please, enlighten me. Just saying you guys are all defensive about introverts while consistently bashing extroverted people and by saying that we talk about ourselves and stupid things all the time is extremely rude.

  • Buddy199

    You got that right. It took me years to realize that if you wait for other people you’ll never do anything. But if you go alone you end up meeting a lot of other people who came to that same conclusion once you get where you’re going. The farther off the well worn path the more interesting the people.

  • Kelly O’Brien

    Ha ha. I did a closer read of this article and realized something. This is some bad reporting! There were 2 scales in the study. One for the level of extroversion of a person, the other for the level of neuroticism. The way it’s reported though, it appears the scale has extroversion on one end and neurosis at the other. Maybe the reporter has something against introverts.

    Also, they’re using data collected from self-reported surveys. Wow, dodgy at best.

  • duelles

    So much for my meditation, sigh.

  • Alisaur

    This article is definitely written in a confusing fashion, making it look like the study equates introversion with neurosis, when in fact it compares levels of introversion or extroversion with subjects’ feelings of happiness or neurosis. However the nature of the study and survey is also questionable. As others have noted, reliance on self-reported happiness/nueroses is dicey since people with different personalities may report their own feelings to researchers and the public differently. Also Less than 60% of the original participants were able to fill out the follow-up survey in their 60s. I do wonder how that may have affected the results.

    Additionally, I wonder what the results of a similar survey conducted in a different culture would be. It was a UK study and Western cultures generally tend to reward extroverted behavior in very tangible ways, which could perhaps be a cause for less life satisfaction in introverts.

  • Bradamant

    Wow, what an unfortunate combination of poor science and terrible journalism.

  • Theodore Hingely

    If only extroverts live healthy lives, I should have dies a long time ago.

  • chatpaltam o

    hmm, I think we all have both tendencies , we pick and choose when we need to be one or the other.
    its a genetic thing, we are who we are, and that’s what makes the world go round,
    and subjects to read about and debate :)

  • Rodger Mangold

    The author insinuates that we have the ability to flip a switch to choose to be one or the other just because we’ve learned through one study that it may be beneficial to be extroverted. Our aversion to one or the other state may in fact be the result of social setting, emotional, mental, or physical trauma, or genetic predisposition. Therefore, just because we desire to, doesn’t give us ability to become extroverted or introverted.

  • Sombrero Queso

    HA! I’m going to have to say that if you consider yourself an extrovert, you love this article and if you consider yourself an introvert you’re totally offended. As for myself, I can be very introverted at times, and I can be an extrovert at times. The bottom line is, there isn’t a single event that trained me to be either. So it’s stupid. Especially since it concerns being an extrovert at a young age. You either are or you aren’t when you’re young. As an adult, I feel like I have the freedom to be one or the other depending on the situation and my mood. And introvert might say, “I don’t have that choice, you’re an extrovert”, and an extrovert would say “You think too much about it, I just am who I am, you’re an introvert.”
    The reality is and what I read is happy people live longer… and introverts and extroverts can be equally happy… The article does suggest that extroverts are happier. One might say stupid people are happier too… Both statements would be debatable.

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