In the Kitchen at Parties?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Are you an extravert or an introvert? Normally a psychologist who wanted to find out would give you a questionnaire with questions of the Do-you-always-find-yourself-in-the-kitchen-at-parties? variety. But a recent study of over a thousand people suggests a more interesting, if less intuitive, way to answer this age-old question. So, on a scale of 0 (particularly unhappy) to 10 (particularly happy) – with 5 representing your typical baseline level of happiness –  how happy do you feel when doing each of the following…

(a) being at work, (b) doing sport/exercise, (c) watching TV, (d) listening to music, (e) relaxing, (f) shopping, (g) reading?

The key item is the first one. Scoring less than 5 (meaning your happiness when working is lower than your baseline level) is associated with introversion; scoring more than 5 (i.e., greater than your baseline), with extraversion. Perhaps surprisingly, both introverts and extraverts are happier than baseline when exercising; though, as you might expect, extraverts do tend to have higher scores here. Introverts and extraverts don’t differ for the remaining activities, with one very surprising exception: Extraverts take more pleasure from reading than introverts. How come? The researchers’ answer is that extraverts have a more active reward system, meaning that they are happiest when working towards some goal. This would explain why extraverts take more pleasure than introverts from working, exercising and reading – activities that are often directed towards a particular goal – but not on activities such as (c) – (g) that, whilst enjoyable, tend not to have a particular aim.

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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