In terms of personality, people generally fall under two categories. Some are more outgoing and sociable while others love to keep to themselves and avoid social encounters at all costs. People who exhibit social traits are referred to as extroverts, while those who tend to keep to themselves are referred to as introverts.
Both groups of people have been constantly compared against each other, including their tendency to live better and healthy lives because of the traits peculiar to each of them. Some have also leveraged in these labels to make excuses for their life-trajectory.
But does personality have anything to do with health? Studies have shown that personality traits can influence health outcomes.
Extroverts are generally known as social butterflies. They are the beat and rhythm of any social gathering, always on the talkative and energetic side and would never be caught being confined to one space for a long period of time.
They are adventurous and love to meet new people. Their mind is like an open book as they assert and express themselves without limitations.
Introverts, on the other hand, are the exact opposite of extroverts. They cherish their own company and are often immersed in their own inner thoughts and ideas. They’d rather stay home all day by themselves than go out and have social interactions with other people. In fact, they will most likely be anxious at the simple thought of having to spend time with people. They are hard to read and often come across as quiet and reserved.
HOW BEING AN EXTROVERT CAN IMPACT HEALTH.
When it comes to keeping fit and staying healthy, social interactions have been highlighted as a contributing factor. Studies have shown how positive social connections is good for mental health as it plays a role in lowering anxiety and depression. It can also help strengthen the immune system and increase the life span. In this vein, it will appear that extroverts whose major defining characteristic is being socially active, may have an advantage over introverts when it comes to being healthy.
A study carried out by researchers at Northwestern University, Center for cognitive neurology and Alzheimer’s disease pointed out that octogenarians and those above 80 have robust mental agility similar to that of young people because they were socially outgoing and had more friends. It has also been stated that socially inactive people have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Exercise is another factor that has been used to measure the health benefits of being extroverted. It has been found that people who took to working out in groups as opposed to working out alone were less susceptible to stress and were more mentally and physically fit than those who took to working out alone or with one partner.
A study that appeared in the journal of experimental psychology reported that acting like an extrovert could improve the overall well-being of individuals who were less socially inclined, including introverts. The study subjected 131 undergraduates to a behavioral change test.
The student’s health and well being were assessed first before they proceeded to change their personality traits in certain ways for a week. Some had to go out of character and become more gregarious and garrulous, while others switched to being taciturn and measured in character.
At the end of the week, they took the same health and well-being assessment tests before switching characters again for another week, after which they took the health and well-being assessment tests again. Those with originally introverted characters reported an overall feeling of well-being, while those with originally extroverted characters reported diminished feelings of general health and well being.
A strong immune system has also been linked with being extroverted in character. This was reported in a 2014 study carried out by scientists from Los Angeles. The research pointed out that strong immune response due to inflammatory actions were observed in extroverts. It was proposed that this may be a result of extroverts being exposed to an array of infections in the course of their external activities. However, a long term inflammatory response can cause cancer and heart diseases.
Also, extroverts can be exposed to depression through social media use when FOMO (fear of missing out) occurs. The constant need to be a part of every activity may have it’s a downside. They are also at risk of drug and alcohol abuse when the whims of social instincts take them beyond the borders of responsible behavior. Alcohol and drug addiction as we know is severely detrimental to health.
HOW BEING AN INTROVERT IMPACTS HEALTH
Introversion can take on many forms, and the stereotypes associated with the personality trait can tend to be misleading. It is important to note that introversion does not equate to loneliness, which can serve as a base for depression and other mental health conditions. However, an introvert is more likely to become lonely than an extrovert.
The key personality trait of introverts is the need for their own space. Introverts may not avoid social gatherings all together but will be more inclined to watch from the sidelines and make a little conversation. They are more of observers than executioners, more of listeners than talkers. They are not spontaneous and will take their time in assessing people before warming up to them, unlike extroverts.
Introverts can become edgy and anxious when there is a buzz of activity going on around them. This may bring on symptoms of anxiety. The mere thought of having to interact or socialize with other people especially in large groups can be stressful for them. Too much exposure to socially-oriented conditions can spur on anxiety in introverts which can negatively affect their health.
Some introverts can find it extremely difficult to connect with even one person and may become really isolated which can lead to suicidal tendencies, depression, and antisocial behavior.
It would seem that the world glorifies extroverts more than they do introverts, and this disparity between the two personalities can negatively affect introverts by inducing feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth which can serve as a foundation for depression to be built on. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Melbourne threw more light on this. The study deduced that introverts who wished they could be more socially outgoing were more likely to be unhappy. They advised that introverts would be happier if they learned how to be comfortable with their traits.
In a positive light, introverts are better equipped to handle sleep deprivation than extroverts. This was proved to be true by a study carried out by the Walter Reed Army Institute in 2010. Participants of the study were kept awake for 36 hours, 12 of which were assigned for social interactions. Extroverts scored low in terms of keeping alert than introverts. The researchers explained that parts of the brain responsible for wakefulness can become exhausted due to social activities, hence the pressing need to sleep. Introverts, however, seemed able to suppress that need because of high cortical arousal.
Introverts generally have higher cortisol arousal that makes them respond actively to environmental sights and sounds. This is why it can be overwhelming for them to be exposed to such sounds for a long period of time, hence the need for a quiet, calm, and peaceful environment.
They also have the advantage of missing out on the adverse effects of FOMO which borders on symptoms of depression and anxiety. People who cared less about social interactions will care even less about missing out on them. In fact, they may secretly thank their lucky stars that they didn’t have to be involved.
Also, Introverts are less likely to be involved in negative social behaviors that can be disadvantageous to health, such as excessive consumption of alcohol and drug use.
WHO IS HEALTHIER?
Based on scientific evidence cited, it would seem that extroverts reap more benefits health-wise than introverts. However, these studies do not corroborate a cause and effect relationship and are mostly based on observations.
Maintaining a healthy life is an individual responsibility, and it is incumbent on each person to figure out the right way to be mentally and physically fit by keeping stress at bay, adopting the right lifestyle and engaging a positive approach to life.