New Study Reveals Some Comforting News for Introverts


There might have come a point in time when you, like Mindy Kaling, asked yourself: Why is everyone hanging out without me? 

It turns out the feeling that you're the only introvert in a sea of extroverts might be all in your head. A new study published in Psychological Science has found that we actually overperceive how many extroverts are really out there. There are plenty of introverts in the world — we just don't see them as much.

The study: Researchers at Dartmouth College assessed an incoming group of 284 MBA students, determining whether each participant was an introvert or extrovert. Five weeks into the semester, participants responded to a questionnaire about each other that asked, "Who are the classmates you have been with most often for informal social activities, such as going out to lunch, dinner, drinks, films, visiting one another's home?" They were asked the same question again six weeks later.

When participants assessed the groups, they detected — not wrongly — that extroverts had more friends. "An extravert in the 90th percentile of extraversion had an 11.6% chance of being cited as a friend by a given other person, whereas an introvert in the 10th percentile of extraversion had a 7.9% chance," the study found

That led participants to accurately perceive that there were more extroverts in their friend groups. According to the authors, "People's social networks will tend to be overpopulated with extraverts and underpopulated with introverts."

But there's a catch: Because of what social scientists call the "friendship paradox," we actually misperceive how many extroverts there are. We get the impression that there are more extroverts out there than there really are — and fewer introverts.

Why everyone else seems so extraverted: It all goes back to the "friendship paradox." As the Association for Psychological Science explained the theory, "statistically speaking, our friends are more popular than we are. It's a simple matter of math: Because popular people have more friends, they are disproportionately represented in social networks — which guarantees that on average, our friends have more friends than we do." Or that's how it seems to us. 

Professor Steven Strogatz of Cornell University explained the paradox best in the New York Times:

For example, imagine going to the gym. When you look around, does it seem that just about everybody there is in better shape than you are? Well, you're probably right. But that's inevitable and nothing to feel ashamed of. If you're an average gym member, that's exactly what you should expect to see, because the people sweating and grunting around you are not average. They're the types who spend time at the gym, which is why you're seeing them there in the first place. The couch potatoes are snoozing at home where you can't count them. In other words, your sample of the gym's membership is not representative. It's biased toward gym rats.

Looking around at your friend group, you're going to see people who have friends, because your sample is biased — they're your friends. What the Dartmouth researchers found is that you're also going to see more people who are extroverts, because extroverts tend to have a lot of friends. 

But the reality is there are a lot fewer popular, outgoing people out there — we just don't always see it.

Moderating our FOMO: When we overestimate how extroverted our peers and friends are, we can start to question how "normal" our slightly more introverted behaviors are. Are we really the only ones passing up the party for a night of Netflix and nachos, for the fifth time in a row?

"When extraverts are over-represented in networks, the average person may begin to feel like they don't belong," Daniel Feiler, co-author of the research, told Mic. "They may feel like a hermit, by comparison, and that could have harmful effects on their sense of self-worth."

This insecurity is most acute when we're younger. "It can be stressful if you feel like you can't keep up socially and have a fear of missing things because you are not outgoing enough," Feiler said.

That's why it's crucial to remember that while everyone else may seem like a type-A personality with friends for days, we're not getting the full picture. We can get lost when we're scanning through Instagram feeds, feeling like we're never the one to throw a rooftop party with a 200-person guest list. But when it comes to our social habits, we might be way more normal than we think.

On Friday night, you keep doing you.