New research explores whether acting extraverted boosts your mood

David Ludden

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Extraverts often seem like they have more fun. They may be more likely to be the ones at parties laughing, singing, and acting crazy with other extraverted people. They have outgoing natures and seem to enjoy interactions with people. And indeed, a large body of research points to a link between extraversion and generally positive mood.

By contrast, introverts tend to be the observers at parties, and may be more likely to watch people engage with others than join in themselves. They may prefer deeper conversation with an individual, but struggle with small talk or interacting with large groups. And because they're less likely to be perceived as the "life of the party," they may be seen as less happy than extraverts. Likewise, research has found a link between introversion and a less positive mood.

“Fake It Till You Make It” Or “Pay For It Later”?

These observations have led some psychologists to suggest that introverted people can boost their mood by acting more outgoing. In this “fake it till you make it” approach, some who opt to interact more with other people could eventually boost their mood as they experience positive interactions with others.

This approach mostly works for extraverts when they're feeling down. That's because they intuitively know they can boost their mood by getting back into the social scene when they’re in a slump. It’s less clear how effective it is for introverts.

Research shows that we’re at our best when we act according to our authentic nature. Acting like someone we’re not is effortful and can lead to mental exhaustion in the long run. In fact, other psychologists have warned that pushing introverts to be more extraverted than they naturally are could backfire on them. According to this line of thought, when introverts intentionally act more outgoing than usual, it may come with a bit of improved mood at the moment, but they “pay for it later” with increased exhaustion or stress afterward.

To date, research on this topic consists mainly of short-term studies, which have been quite inconsistent. Some findings support the “fake it till you make it” approach, while others have found evidence for the “pay for it later” hypothesis. What’s needed is a study that tests the long-term effects of acting more extraverted than usual, and that’s just what Belgian psychologist E. Kuijpers and colleagues did.

Experience Sampling: How Are You Feeling Right Now?

For this project, the researchers employed a method known as experience sampling. Several times a day over a period of several weeks, participants were pinged on their smartphone to respond to questions about how “talkative” and “energetic” they were feeling at the moment, as a measure of their current level of extraversion. They also responded to “How are you feeling right now?” to measure current mood.

Before the study began, participants took a personality test that measured their average level of extraversion. Each response, then, can be compared with this baseline to measure whether the current level was higher or lower than usual. The current level of extraversion could also be compared with the current level of positive mood.

The results generally supported the “fake it till you make it” approach. When people reported momentarily higher than usual levels of extraversion, they also expressed higher levels of positive mood. Furthermore, when they were less extraverted than usual, they also felt less happy.

In addition, the researchers found no evidence for the “pay for it later” hypothesis. That is, they found no consistent patterns of decreased mood in the hours or days following a period of increased outgoingness. Rather, the only consistent pattern was levels of extraversion and positive mood rising and falling together.

But Which Comes First—Extraversion or Mood?

It’s important to point out that this study does not demonstrate that faking extraversion will make you feel happier. Instead, a boost in mood may be what makes people feel more outgoing. After all, personal experience tells us that we tend to be more talkative and energetic when we’re happy and less so when we’re sad.

The “fake it till you make it” approach supposedly works by way of a feedback process. You put on a happy face even though you feel rotten instead. People respond positively to your happy face, and these pleasant interactions then boost your mood until you get to the point where the way you feel inside matches the positive face you’re showing to the world.

There’s still much debate among psychologists about whether the evidence so far actually supports the “fake it till you make it” approach and the proposed feedback process for improving mood. However, the important finding from this study is that you probably won’t have to “pay for it later” if you do try to deviate from your normal level of outgoingness.

In sum, “fake it till you make it” is one psychology experiment you can safely try on your own. Put on a happy face, pretend to enjoy the interactions you have with others, and see for yourself whether it gives you a boost in mood. It may help, and it certainly can’t hurt.

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David Ludden is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College. As the author of two books and a popular blog for Psychology Today, he mainly writes about communication in relationships and the things couples can do to have more satisfying interactions.

Lawrenceville, GA
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