Extroverts Prefer Immediate Gratification

The high from shopping til you drop can quickly fade for shopaholics, who's spending can wreak havoc on their relationships and wallets. (Image credit: Dreamstime.com.)

Deciding whether to spend that holiday bonus now or put it into savings may have a lot to do with your personality.

A new study finds extroverts are more likely to jump on immediate gratification, while introverts tend to delay rewards and instead invest the dough in hopes of a larger payoff down the road.

"These are choices we're encountering all the time," study researcher Jacob Hirsh said. "There's a conflict where we have to choose between getting a reward now or delaying gratification to focus on long-term goals."

The finding makes sense since extroverts have a magnified experience of rewards relative to their inward, shy counterparts.

"It means their brains are wired up to be more responsive to the rewards in their environment," said Hirsh, of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois. So if you gave an extrovert and introvert $100, the outgoing individual would feel better from the cash than the other. "They like everything in life more," Hirsh said, referring to extroverts.

In the study, Hirsh and his colleagues had 137 undergraduates from the University of Toronto play a game in which they had to choose between receiving various amounts of money now or in the future, with the size of the immediate reward varying from $2 to $20. The long-term reward ranged from $100 to $1,000.

The participants were also primed to be in a good or bad mood by playing a game in which a confederate either completed brainteasers faster, or slower than the participant, though there was no official competition.

Results showed extroverts were significantly more likely to prefer the smaller, immediate rewards compared with introverts overall. When they were in a good mood (when they beat out the confederates), extroverts were even more likely to choose the immediate money. Regardless of mood, introverts were more likely than extroverts to prefer delayed rewards. [Personality Predicted by Size of Different Brain Regions]

"When people get into an emotionally aroused state they are particularly more focused on immediate gratification and not long-term goals," Hirsh told LiveScience. "Because extroverts are already sensitive to rewards, when they get into a positive mood it primes this reward system in the brain even more, so they're focused on immediate opportunities."

The finding may explain why extroverts are so impulsive, since when they are exposed to potential rewards that puts them into a positive mood, which in turn cues them that now is the time to pursue that reward. 

"We treat positive mood as universally desirable, but this research suggests there may be a bit more of a tradeoff," Hirsh said. "It may bias us to think only of immediate rewards and not long-term opportunities."

The research is detailed in the current issue of the journal Emotion, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

You can follow LiveScience Managing Editor Jeanna Bryner on Twitter @jeannabryner.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.