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Why A Lot More People Are Introverts Than We Think

New research suggests that most people often aren’t as social as we think and introverts can be more inclusive and tolerant.

Why A Lot More People Are Introverts Than We Think
[Photo: Flickr user Christopher Michel]

We are all guilty of holding some kind of biases, and most of the time we aren’t even aware of their effect on our decisions.

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But some situations stimulate the unconscious biases more than others. Social networking is powerful example. A circle of people you know could help you find a job, be a sounding board for your idea for a product, or give you advice on anything from a personal matter to where to get the best pizza. But your perception of the people within a social network can also powerfully distort reality and make people seem more social than they are.

How does it happen? According to new research from the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth, it starts when social networks magnify the “friendship paradox,” or what happens when we are friends with popular people. It’s the mathematical truism that people’s social networks will tip toward having individuals who have a lot of friends themselves.

Tuck researchers Daniel C. Feiler and Adam M. Kleinbaum took this one step further
by studying personalities and illuminating how a “network extraversion bias”–the belief that others are more social and outgoing than they actually are–started to form within a new class of MBA students. The 284 students were interviewed twice, once just a little over a month after orientation and another time 11 weeks into the program.

Both times, the students were asked to point out who their friends were using a class roster, and the second time they were given a test to determine whether they were introverts or extroverts.

Not surprisingly, big personality extraverts had more real-world friends. But the friendship paradox is even greater for them. That’s because being outgoing naturally makes a person more social and have a wider circle of friends as a result, but also because unconscious bias is at work–helping them make friends with others they believe are just as extraverted as they are and not as likely to befriend an introvert. This doesn’t happen with introverts who became friends with both extroverts and others who were like them.

The network extraversion bias is most pronounced among extroverts. “If you’re more extroverted, you might really have a skewed view of how extroverted other people are in general,” says co-author Daniel Feiler, “If you’re very introverted, you might actually have a pretty accurate idea.”

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The research also found that this bias could lead to thinking that there are a lot more extroverts than there actually are. “Such social miscalibration might affect people’s self-perceptions or lead to poor policy and management decisions,” the researchers write.

Indeed, if more people believe that they aren’t as social as some others in their network, that could lead to feeling like an outsider and ding their self-esteem and self-worth, they say. “There’s a tendency to wonder, ‘am I normal?'” Feiler says. Luckily, he says, the study indicates you’re probably more normal than you think.

This research adds to a growing body of findings that it’s not always better to be extroverted. “Our findings suggest that introverts have the smallest network extraversion bias, which might aid them, for example, as leaders,” Feiler and Kleinbaum write. They point to one study that shows that introverts may be more tolerant of both introversion and extraversion among their colleagues, team members, or employees. Even though extroverts are more likely to snag leadership roles, other studies support the fact that they aren’t more effective than introverts.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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