How you fare during the COVID-19 pandemic may be at least partially revealed by answering one simple question: Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
If you’re an extrovert, one who draws energy from being with other people, you may have had difficulty during quarantine because of the lack of social interaction, especially if you live alone. That’s because an extrovert thrives in social interactions large and small — from getting coffee with a co-worker to popping into a cubicle to chat to being part of a large meeting. All are energizing for an extrovert.
But if you’re an introvert, one who draws energy from being alone, the quarantine offered a reprieve from the draining effects of social interaction, especially if you live alone. That’s because an introvert prefers a quiet place to think and work, preferring not to engage with others unless it’s necessary. For an introvert, work or other situations that require social interaction can be exhausting.
Now, with some businesses and workplaces reopened and bars and restaurants restricted, extroverts have more options to socialize. And introverts? Many mourn the loss of serenity they may have found at home.
Extroversion and introversion were first described by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1960s. Since then, they’ve become one of what most psychologists believe are the five basic dimensions of personality, the so-called Big 5. (The others are agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism). Given their placement in the hierarchy of personality traits, it is not surprising extroversion or introversion would have such a strong effect on how humans respond to COVID-19 restrictions.
“A good way to think about it is: Who likes to talk in the morning and who needs coffee and quiet to get going?” said Denise M. Rousseau, an organizational psychologist and H.J. Heinz II University professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
When restrictions are relaxed, she said, “I imagine somebody who is a high introvert but who has developed some skills in a more social world may well be feeling some regret at the loss of being in a more controlled environment. If you’re extroverted, you’ll be happier.”
Introversion and extroversion are psychological traits on a continuum, she noted. Most people are somewhere between the two extremes.
Rousseau, who has spent 45 years studying human behavior, describes herself as an introvert who, like most, has developed skills to succeed in a social world even as her “set point of comfort” is being alone.
“Extremes in the continuum get energy or are required to exert energy related to their traits. A lot of people are in the middle. I am a college professor. I talk for a living. I’ve not suffered so much staying home all of that time. My resting point is introversion,” she said.
“I think an extrovert goes home from teaching and wants to chatter away, talking about their day. An introvert, speaking for myself, all I want to do is sit in a chair.”
For an extrovert, social contact “is emotionally akin to food,” New York-based clinical psychologist Robin S. Rosenberg wrote in “Introverts and Extroverts in the Time of COVID-19,” published April 29 on the Society for Human Resource Management website.
Rosenberg, a self-described introvert and founder and CEO of Live In Their World, noted in an interview that 68% of people are evenly split on either side of the apex of the bell curve. She said it’s difficult to generalize about how one side or the other is going to react to the pandemic because there are so many variables at play, such as whether an introvert is surrounded by roommates or an extrovert is alone. That’s why the new coronavirus’ varied effects on extroverts and introverts won’t really be known until peer-reviewed research studies of the phenomenon are published, she said.
“Extroverts are excited to kind of come out of their homes but, that said, the older or more cautious employees who are extroverts are still concerned about the workplace and how it’s going to work,” she said. “Most introverts are not super excited about returning to their non-personal realm (of the workplace) but they may be happy to see their friends in person or to have child care again.”
Rosenberg said there’s one feeling that carries across the differences in the personality traits: “I think people want to be safe.”
Research about how personality traits are manifested during COVID-19 are necessary because public discourse about the pandemic has focused on “collective human behavior …. Yet understanding personality has never been more important,” wrote University of Cambridge behavioral scientist Sanna Balsari-Palsule in “Why Personality Matters in This Pandemic,” published June 4 in “Psychology Today.”
She noted that researchers in Brazil found that individuals with higher scores in extroversion were less likely to engage in social distancing and “may find it more challenging to adhere to preventative behaviors post-lockdown.”
In conclusion, she said the pandemic is “riddled with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty …. Our ability to deploy interventions requires a holistic understanding of both the individual and the collective.”
Rosenberg said researchers may find the lockdown had a positive effect in moving both extroverts and introverts even closer to the middle of the continuum, making for more balanced lives.
“An introvert may realize, ‘Oh, I actually started missing being around people,’ and an extrovert may recognize they kind of liked having some down time.”
“Did the extrovert and introvert learn different things from the time of quarantine? Did the extrovert use the time for reflection? Did the introvert see that being around people is kind of nice? I think we can be changed by this experience for the good.”
©2020 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette