Are Extroverts Ruining Psychologists' Surveys?

happy woman
Extroverts' penchant for hyperbole might be getting in the way of scientists' efforts to paint an objective view of the world. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Extroverts answer survey questions more enthusiastically than do introverts, a new study says.

It didn't matter whether extroverts were rating characteristics about themselves, about others, or even just a picture — across the board, extroverts endorse more extreme responses, said study researcher Donna McMillan, a psychologist at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

The findings matter because scientists, particularly psychologists, use surveys to assess a wide variety of topics, including human behavior and emotions. Extroverts' penchant for hyperbole might be getting in the way of scientists' efforts to paint an objective view of the world.

In addition, extroverts get more out of positive experiences than their more introverted counterparts, according to past research. The new study raises the question: Do extroverts really experience things more intensely, or are they just less abashed to say so? 

The findings were presented Aug. 6 at the at the America Psychological Association's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

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McMillan and her colleagues gave surveys to 115 undergraduate students ages 18 to 22, who provided ratings on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the low extreme (not at all) and 5 representing the high extreme (very much or very often). Some questions asked participants about self-characteristics, for instance, "How honest are you?" or "How impatient are you?"

Other questions asked about participants' reactions to hypothetical scenarios. For example, "You've eaten most of your salad and you discover half a caterpillar in it. How strongly does this impact you?"

Participants were also asked to rate how much they liked photos of nature scenes. They also filled out a personality assessed to determine how extroverted or introverted they were.

Overall, extroverts tended to give more extreme responses than introverts. The researchers then singled out the top 40 extroverts and top 40 introverts. In these groups, extroverts gave an average of about 32 extreme responses while introverts gave an average of 26.

Are extroverts really ecstatic?

It's not clear whether extroverts really do feel happier, sadder, more disgusted, etc., or whether they are just more declarative about their feelings. [5 Things That Will Make You Happier]

McMillan, who classifies herself as extroverted, has encountered this question in her personal life as well as her research life, recalling one experience in which her and her husband had prepared bruschetta to bring to a party. "I said something outlandish like 'I think this is the best bruschetta in the world!" Her husband, who tends to be more introverted, responded, "It is good."

"I'm not sure, but I think we might equally like the bruschetta," McMillan told LiveScience. "But I'm not sure."

It might be possible to use physiological measures to tell the difference, an avenue McMillan and her colleagues are exploring.

The findings could also have implications for consumer surveys. For example, a beverage company might be able to make their new soda look good by recruiting extroverts to rate the product and introverts to rate their rival's soda, McMillan said.

Scientists may also want to take extroversion into account in future surveys, McMillan said. Scientists do have a way to "cancel out" factors they can't control — by randomly assigning participants to receive one drug/intervention or another. This randomization would be expected to "wash out" any effects of personality on the results, McMillan said.

"But especially if there's going to be any reason to think ... there might be more extroverts in one of the groups, that could be throwing off your data, I think," McMillan said.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.