Pandemic isolation harder on introverts than extroverts, study suggests

Extroverts find a way to connect whereas introverts are less adept at maintaining their fewer connections

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many assumed introverts had an advantage over extroverts in surviving isolation because they prefer to be alone.

“This couldn’t be a better situation for introverts who have long found the world to be too much with them,” wrote Joanne Kaufman in a New York Times article called “Loving the Lockdown.” Another journalist with Bloomberg surmised that introverts would find the experience of lockdown “liberating.”

As it turns out, isolation has been harder on the mental health of introverts than extroverts, according to Anahita Shokrkon, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta.

“Extroverts find a way to connect,” even when conditions make it difficult to do so, she said, whereas introverts are less adept at maintaining their fewer social connections.

“Extroverts have better mental health in general,” she said. “They are happier, and they usually have more friends, and better quality relationships. They can lean on the support of those friends to keep their positive mental health.”

Calling herself an “extreme extrovert,” Shokrkon decided to explore the toll of the pandemic on the two personality types when COVID restrictions shut down her doctoral research on bilingualism in children.

After surveying more than 1,000 Canadians, she published her study last May in the journal PLOS ONE. The results were corroborated in a series of studies conducted around the globe and summarized in a BBC article entitled, “Why introverts didn’t actually ‘win’ lockdown.”

“As scary as the pandemic was to me, I wasn’t feeling as awful as I expected to,” said Shokrkon, who made a point of connecting every evening with a group of friends to play games online.

“I was still having social interactions, but virtually. So I started asking my friends about how they were doing. And based on their answers, I began to see a pattern – the more introverted they were, the less OK they felt.”

Shokrkon stressed that no one is a pure introvert or extrovert; most are “ambiverts” falling somewhere along a spectrum. “Most people lie somewhere in the middle,” with perhaps one dominant trait, she said.

According to an Angus Reid poll taken in April 2020, the pandemic negatively affected at least half of Canadians surveyed, with 40 per cent reporting worse mental health and another 10 per cent reporting that their mental health had suffered “a lot.”

While the results of Shokrkon’s study may surprise some, they only confirm what psychologists have long known: extroverts tend to have a brighter outlook on life.

“Even before the pandemic, the same pattern was observed—extroversion is positively related to mental health,” said Shokrkon. “Extroverts are better at adjusting to life-changing events, and they use adaptive strategies, such as problem solving and acceptance.

“Most importantly, they have more friends – and bigger social support – and they can rely on that. Introverts don’t have as many close friends, and it’s even more difficult for them to maintain these friendships” when they can’t see them in person.

She stressed that the findings are not meant to be a value judgment on which personality type is better, but only a reflection of “different attitudes people have towards social life.”

Shokrkon is planning to do a second phase of the study this fall to see whether the mental health of participants in the first phase has improved as COVID restrictions have been lifted.

For students returning to campus this fall with social anxiety, she offers this advice: consider gradually readjusting to social life, perhaps by taking one or two online courses and choosing remote work options where they exist.

| By Geoff McMaster


This article was submitted by the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

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