Good-News Health Facts for Introverts
According to researchers, introverts experience fewer accidents, less overeating and more sleep than extroverts. Let’s explore the reasons.
If you think about it, it makes sense that personality would have an impact on health. After all, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert influences your daily choices, your mindset and your feelings. After rooting around on the Internet for data on this topic, here’s what I’ve found. Compared to extroverts…
1. Introverts have fewer car accidents.
Studies show that extroverted drivers have more fatal car accidents than introverted drivers. This appears to be because extroverts – who gravitate more to social interactions – are more easily distracted, have a shorter attention span, exercise less vigilance and tend to be more impulsive. Extroverted drivers may be more likely to gab on the phone or with passengers in the back seat, mess around with the radio controls and pursue the thrill of going way over the speed limit.
On the other hand, in some realms introverts are more injury prone because they hesitate before asking for assistance. One study showed this effect for firefighters, who stay safe best with close cooperation and teamwork.
2. Introverts are more likely to be at a healthy weight.
Introverts have lower rates of obesity. In one study of nearly 2,000 people over a span of 50 years, extroverts were heavier than introverts, with more body fat, larger waists and bigger hips. A German study of more than 18,000 individuals ranging in age from 17 to 96 also showed that extroverts were more likely than introverts to be obese.
Possible reasons for this difference include extroverts attending more social events where high-caloric food is served; less mindfulness while eating because extroverts are focused on other people; a preference for immediate rewards over long-term effects; and peer influence in social situations. A Swiss study found that extroverts ate more sweets, savory foods, meat and soft drinks. “A surprising result is that extroverted people eat more due to external reasons, such as a nice smell or the taste of food,” said the lead researcher on the Swiss study.
In a study of children by researchers at Cornell University, the extroverted students (as rated by teachers) served themselves around 30 percent more cereal and milk than the introverted students did. The extroverted kids also were more influenced by the size of the bowl, serving themselves 33 percent more in a large bowl than in a smaller bowl. Based on this study, analysts speculate that introverts decide how much to eat according to inner cues such as hunger and appetite, while extroverts tune into external cues like bowl size.
3. Introverts sleep more (maybe).
According to psychologist Stephen Diamond, introverts put a positive value on rest and sleep. Indeed, “Sleep is the primal form of introversion, a state in which we temporarily but regularly withdraw almost totally from the outer world and journey to the fathomless depths of the inner world.” Extroverts, in contrast, are more likely to view sleeping as an unfortunate yet necessary waste of time, a diversion from their main source of satisfaction – being with other people. With that said, however, although WebMD, a generally reliable medical authority, stated that introverts sleep more than extroverts, I couldn’t track down the scientific research on this.
Introverts’ sleep quality, though, may not be so great. In a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 Americans by the brand Best Mattress, introverts were 8.3 percent more likely to have nightmares, and 7.7 percent more introverts had trouble staying awake when they were tired. In the same survey, 17.7 percent more extroverts than introverts said they woke up feeling rested and satisfied from sleep.
What about overall longevity?
If we look at overall longevity rates for extroverts and introverts, the health picture gets really interesting. For many years, in the US extroverts lived somewhat longer than introverts, but during the Covid-19 pandemic, more extroverts died than introverts. In the words of two researchers, “Compared with someone who scored at the mean level of extroversion, mortality rates prior to the pandemic were 10% lower for a person who was very extroverted, while they were 12% higher for someone who was very introverted. The slight mortality advantage enjoyed by extroverts prior to the pandemic disappeared during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Why? The researchers speculated as follows:
“We suspect that the mortality benefit of introversion during the pandemic is largely a result of reduced exposure to the risk of infection, but it may also derive in part from the ability of introverts to adapt more easily to reduced social interaction without engaging in self-destructive behavior (e.g., drug and alcohol abuse). Introverts have been training for a pandemic their whole lives.”
As the pandemic recedes, this temporary boost for introverts most likely receded as well. Although I tried to discover the physiological reasons why extroverts generally live longer in normal times, explanations were elusive. I’ll return to the topic in a future post if I come across better information.