Fake people might be happier, after all
If you are an introvert, the key to happiness might not be staying true to yourself. In fact, it is quite the opposite. New research has found that introverts who forced themselves to be an extravert for a prolonged period of time — you know, faked it — were ultimately happier. Maybe it pays to be a little fake, after all?
“The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extraverted way improves well-being,” Sonja Lyubomirsky, a UCR psychologist and co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, explained about the study’s findings. (In case you are wondering why we are talking about extraverts versus the more commonly used term extroverts, it is apparently because psychologists favor it due to its historic use in academia, and the Latin origins of “extra,” meaning “outside”)
Researchers started with the presumption that extraversion, which they claim is a “trait rewarded in US culture,” is more favorable than introversion – even when considering the words we use to describe them. Therefore, they tried to set the tone of the experiment as neutral as possible. The first way they did this was by choosing words that were a little more neutral when describing each group. They used adjectives such as “talkative,” “assertive,” and “spontaneous” for the extraverts and for introversion, “deliberate,” “quiet,” and “reserved.” Then, told members of each group, college students who acted as either introverts and extraverts, that both sets of behavior were beneficial for college students according to previous research.
Each group was told to be as “talkative, assertive and spontaneous” as they could stand. Then, the next week, the same group was told to do the opposite, to be “deliberate, quiet, and reserved.” They continued this game for awhile. Three times a week, researchers would email participants and remind them of the behavior change. After the week was over, they would use various measures of well-being to determine the emotional state of participants.
What they discovered was that most people reported greater well-being after the extraversion week, and decreases in well-being after the introversion week. And, surprisingly the fake extraverts reported no discomfort or ill effects.
“It showed that a manipulation to increase extraverted behavior substantially improved well-being,” Lyubomirsky said. “Manipulating personality-relevant behavior over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful.”
Researchers did point out, however, that faking extraversion could have long-term repercussions on that said happiness, if the study period was longer. They also pointed out that the malleability of their subjects might have to do with the fact that they were all college aged students — so faking behavior might not work the same way with older adults.
Before you decide to fake extraversion, there is something to be said about being a totally authentic person. Keep in mind that many fake people just aren’t likable and many of us simply don’t have the time in our lives to maintain friendships with people who aren’t totally real. Additionally, like the researchers point out, faking your personality over an extended period of time could possibly take the opposite effect on your mental health.