Friday 9 October 2015

FAQs on Acting Extraverted and Feeling Happier

One of the most well-established findings in personality psychology is that extraverts* tend to be "happier". By this I mean that individuals who are more assertive, talkative and sociable than they are passive, quiet and reserved, tend to experience more highly-activated pleasant emotions (e.g., lively, enthusiastic, excitement).

Intriguingly, acting extraverted might be as "good" as being extraverted when it comes to increasing your happiness. This has been demonstrated over and over again in the lab, using a paradigm pioneered by Dr. William Fleeson and colleagues. I've previously blogged about one of these studies, but the general procedure is that participants are randomly assigned to act, for example, talkative, assertive, and sociable, (i.e., extraverted) or passive, quiet, and reserved (i.e., introverted), or are given no instructions. They then participate in an interactive task while following these acting instructions. 

All of these studies show that participants who are instructed to act extraverted report feeling happier than participants who are instructed to act introverted. Here's the kicker: even introverts seem to enjoy acting extraverted!

People often find this somewhat surprising, so I (and other researchers in this area) get the same questions a lot. Here's an attempt to catalogue and answer some of these FAQs!

1. Are there any "costs" of acting extraverted for introverts?

It's an intuitively appealing idea that introverts might find it stressful and draining, or feel inauthentic, when asked to act "out of character". Professor Brian Little has warned that acting against one's "first nature" for prolonged periods of time will seriously tax the individual, physically and psychologically. But since we often need to enact "free traits" to get the things we want in life, Brian Little has also theorised about the need for "restorative resources" to mitigate the associated costs.

So what does the research say about the "hidden costs" objection? To date, there's actually no evidence that introverts find it distressing or overly-effortful (i.e., cognitively depleting) to act like an extravert. Paradoxically, introverts even report feeling more authentic (i.e., more like themselves) when they are acting more extraverted.

Arguably, however, this issue has not really been tested thoroughly. Each of these studies only looked at the short-term effects of brief periods of acting extraverted. So it's still an open question as to any repercussions might emerge after long-term, sustained periods of acting extraverted. In the meanwhile, it seems that occasional bursts of extraverted behaviours are unlikely to harm introverts.

2. If acting extraverted is so enjoyable, then why don't introverts act extraverted more often?

There are several reasons why introverts—people who act extraverted less oftenstill exist. First, there's a difference between "wanting" a reward and "liking" it. So it might be that introverts are less motivated to act extraverted, even if they usually enjoy the experience. Related to this, there's also evidence that introverts are less likely to expend effort to increase their happiness. In line with the idea that individuals differ in what emotions they prefer to feel (ideal affect), this suggests that introverts may not even want to be "happy" in the exuberant sense.

Another reason, from an affective forecasting perspective, is that we are often wrong about what will make us happy. But these predicted emotions—how we expect to feel—influence our decisions. Indeed, Dr. John Zelenski and colleagues found that introverts underestimate how enjoyable acting extraverted can be, and overestimate how self-conscious and distressed it would make them feel. Given these motivational factors, it's not too mystifying that not everyone is an extravert.

3. Does this finding only apply in cultures where extraversion is more highly valued?

To date, "acting extraverted" lab experiments have only been conducted in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. These are all "WEIRD" (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) countries where extraverted traits are arguably more culturally valued.

However, a recent cross-cultural study sheds some light on this issue. Instead of instructing participants to act extraverted or introverted, this team of researchers just asked participants to report how extraverted they behaved each day, and how happy they felt that day, across 20 days. In all five countries—U.S., Venezuela, Philippines, China, and Japan—individuals reported feeling happier on days when they reported acting more extraverted, and the strength of this effect was similar across cultures.

So even though there hasn't yet been a lab-based study in a non-WEIRD country, this study suggests that the finding that extraverted moments are happier might generalise across cultures. Of course, this remains to be tested.

4. Should introverts act more extraverted?

In the end, these studies are descriptive: they just tell you how happy you are likely to feel if you act extraverted rather than introverted. No one is saying that there's anything wrong with being introverted, or that everyone should act extraverted, like, all the time. Not only would that be super annoying (and I'm speaking as an extravert!); it would also be inappropriate in many situations (e.g., at the library, on a meditation retreat, at a funeral).

There are also questions about whether experiencing and pursuing happiness is always a good thing, and whether you can have too much happiness. And in any case, most people—introverted or extraverted—are already pretty happy overall.

All this said, some of these researchers see a potential application of these findings. This is because so far, the research does suggest that acting extraverted could be a simple and effective way to increase your happiness, without any apparent drawbacks.

In the end, I personally see acting extraverted as just another strategy or "tool" that people might be able to use as a way to regulate their emotions, in times when they feel like doing so. I think people should be aware that it's out there, but the decision as to whether or when to use it is totally in your hands.


*My use of "extraversion" and "introversion" is as empirically described by the Big Five framework. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and Dr. Luke Smillie have both written fantastic articles describing the varying conceptualisations of "introversion" in popular culture.

The structure of this post was largely inspired by a very informative book chapter by Dr. John Zelenski, which thoughtfully addressed a series of objections about the finding that trait extraverts tend to be happier:
Zelenski, J. M., Sobocko, K., & Whelan, D. C. (2014). Introversion, solitude, and subjective well-being. In R. J. Coplan and J. C. Bowker (Eds.), The Handbook of Solitude: Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone. (pp. 184-201). Wiley-Blackwell.
This post was also partly motivated by two examiners of my Honours thesis, who expressed curiosity about issues relating to FAQs #1, #2 and #4.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Preparing ESM data using SPSS syntax

I'm currently figuring out how to use SPSS syntax (rather than Excel) to pre-process my experience sampling data, and thought I'd share some useful (and basic!) pieces of syntax I've learned along the way. 

For those unfamiliar with experience sampling, it involves multiple participants reporting on their experiences on several occasions. In my study, it involves ~60 participants answering questionnaires on their phones 6 times each day for 7 days, which means 42 observations per participant and 2,520 observations in total (assuming 100% compliance), or more realistically, assuming 75% compliance, around 1,900 reports. That's a lot of data - a good sign that syntax will help streamline things.

I will be using MPlus to run multilevel modelling analyses, but before I can do that, I need to get the data into shape using SPSS.

1. How to Clean Data

You can compute any number of variables to flag various problems that may crop up in your data. Then, you can compute a dichotomous "valid" variable to filter out all problematic responses. I adapted this basic procedure from McCabe, Mack and Fleeson's (2012) chapter, and cobbled together other bits of syntax I hunted down via Google. For example, here are a few of the problems I'm flagging:

  • responses with no baseline data (i.e., they're not actually part of my study)
  • participants who dropped out due to technical difficulties
  • too many identical responses (e.g., if someone answered all 5s)
  • too few valid responses

Here's what the basic procedure looks like:

Compute nobaseline = 0.
If id = 'ID1' or id = 'ID2' nobaseline = 1.

*note that you don't need the quotation marks if your id variable is in numerical form; mine happen to be in string form

Compute dropped = 0.
If id = 'ID1' or id = 'ID2' dropped = 1.

Count NumZeros=Var1 to Var10 (0).

Count NumOnes=Var1 to Var10 (1).
Count NumNines=Var1 to Var10 (9).
Count NumTens=Var1 to Var10 (10).

Compute tooidentical=0.
If NumZeros > 20 tooidentical=1.
If NumOnes > 20 tooidentical=1.
If NumNines > 20 tooidentical=1.
If NumTens > 20 tooidentical=1.

*this means, for example, if a participant responds with 20 "zeros" out of a possible 23 questions, the data is suspicious

Now creating a variable that will be used to filter out invalid responses, and adding the above conditions:

Compute valid = 1.
If (nobaseline = 1) valid = 0.
If (dropped = 1) valid = 0.
If (tooidentical = 1) valid = 0.

Ok, so now that you've marked various problems, how do you find out how many valid responses are remaining? First, you want to apply the filter you've created, to filter out invalid responses (i.e., valid = 0):

FILTER BY valid.

To find out how many total valid responses and participants there are remaining (for reporting, rather than data-cleaning purposes), this syntax identifies duplicate cases:

  /BY id
VARIABLE LABELS  PrimaryLast 'Indicator of each last matching case as Primary'.
VALUE LABELS  PrimaryLast 0 'Duplicate Case' 1 'Primary Case'.

The total frequency corresponds to the total valid response count, whereas the number of primary cases tells you how many valid participants there are.

What about the number of valid responses per person? We need to use the aggregate function and break it by id; this creates a new variable with each participant's final valid response count:


And we can then use it to compute another "problem data" variable:

Compute toofewtotal=0.
If responsecount < 20 toofewtotal=1.

And now add it to our dichotomous valid data variable, and filter them all out!

If (toofewtotal = 1) valid = 0.

FILTER BY valid.

At this stage, before actually deleting any data, you'll probably want to save a version of this file with all exclusions marked, but with all data still retained.

2. How to Centre Variables Within-Person

For experience sampling data, generally you'll want to centre each variable around a person's mean. This lets you separate out the trait and state effects. The state component will then have a mean of 0, where positive deviations (e.g., 1.2) are greater than the participant's average levels, and negative deviations (e.g., -0.8) are less than their usual levels.

At this stage, I'm assuming you've computed scales already from the raw item scores. Now, to centre the variables and thereby create aggregate "trait" summaries:


Now, to compute state component, just subtract the trait component from the raw scale mean:

compute Var1State=Var1-Var1Centred.
compute Var2State=Var2-Var2Centred.

3. How to Add a Time Lag

You can't really infer causality from most experience sampling data, since it's usually correlational (unless you're measuring the effects of an intervention delivered in real-time). However, it is possible to add a time lag to at least meet one of the requirements for causality - precedence (i.e., a change in the theorised cause preceded a change in the outcome of interest).

The important thing is to set the condition that the lag only applies if the id at the current time point is the same as the id at the previous time point. Otherwise, the lag will cross participants. You'll also want to mark these missing values (in this case, I've chosen -99).

IF (id=lag(id))var1lag=lag(var).
if $casenum = 1 or id ne lag(id) var1lag = -99.
IF (id=lag(id))var2lag=lag(var).
if $casenum = 1 or id ne lag(id) var2lag = -99.

For example, if the participant responded "7", "8" and "9" at T1, T2 and T3, then the lagged variable will be -99, 7, 8.

In the lagged analyses, you'll need to remove the lines of data with missing values. So, create a filter:

Compute lagged = 1.

If varlag1 = -99 lagged = 0.
If varlag2 = -99 lagged = 0.

4. Creating an Easy Filter for Level 2 Analyses

There might be some analyses where you only want to look at level 2 (between-person) variables. As an easy way to "virtually" collapse the data set (i.e., being able to select one row per participant), you can compute and apply another filter:

Compute level2 = 0.
if $casenum = 1 or id ne lag(id) level2 = 1.

*flags the first case for each participant

FILTER BY level2.

5. Saving a Pared-Down Data File

Once I get to MPlus, I don't really want my raw variables getting in the way. So, here's a way to save only the variables that you need for your analyses:

SAVE OUTFILE= '/Users/Jessie/Desktop/esmmplus.sav'/KEEP= id Var1 Var2 Var3 etc... level2 lagged /COMPRESSED.

*the format of the file directory will be different on a PC

Concluding Thoughts: The Joys of Syntax

When I first started learning how to pre-process this data, I was introduced to some cool tricks and functions on Excel, including Pivot Tables and VLOOKUP. And there are still a couple of steps I'll probably use Excel for, including extracting elements from a string date to convert it into a general date format (unless there is a way to do this in SPSS?).

Overall, however, it's now clear that SPSS syntax is a far more efficient and less clunky way to prepare data. For one thing, by writing the syntax ahead of time I can simply run the syntax as soon as I have my data on hand. For another, it means that things are better-documented: I, my supervisor and anyone who wants to see the syntax and data will be able to see exactly how the data was prepared, and what decisions were made. If any errors are made during data preparation, we can trace it back to the syntax. Finally, this documentation means that the next time I need to pre-process experience sampling data or teach someone else how to do it, I can just modify, disseminate and reuse the syntax I've already written, again saving time (and the need to remember various manual Excel steps).

Sunday 5 April 2015

A New Explanation for Why Extraverts Are Happier

Extraversion and Happiness

One of the most robust findings in personality psychology is that people who are more extraverted also tend to feel happier. And by "happier", which I'm using as shorthand, what I really mean is "high activation positive affect", e.g., feeling excitedenthusiastic, energetic and lively. Psychologists, however, have had more difficulty explaining exactly why it is that people who are more talkative, bold and assertive experience more happiness than their more quiet, reserved and passive counterparts.

One class of structural explanations suggests that it's something that extraverts have that explains their greater happiness. Perhaps extraverts just have a higher biologically determined "set-point" or fixed level of happiness. Or maybe extraverts "get more bang for their buck" and experience a stronger positive reaction when good things happen to them.

A second class of explanations proposes a role for social processes. The social activity hypothesis suggests that since extraverts are more sociable, and social activities tend to be enjoyable, their increased quantity of social activity explains why extraverts tend to feel happier. However, a particularly strong study showed that the amount of time spent in various social situations only explained about a sixth of the relationship between extraversion and positive affect.

Studies employing a "counter-dispositional behaviour" paradigm present a further difficulty for all of these explanations. In these studies, participants are instructed to act extraverted, act introverted or given no acting instructions during a group discussion task. A consistent finding that has emerged is that participants report feeling happier after acting extraverted than after acting introverted, and that surprisingly, this applies for dispositional introverts and extraverts alike! 

These studies show that the quantity of social experience can't explain this relationship because all participants spent the same amount of time interacting. And structural explanations also can't explain why simply acting like an extravert is enough to increase one's momentary levels of happiness. This suggests that it's the extraverted behaviours - in other words, what extraverts do - that cause increased happiness.

This still doesn't tell us much about how one gets from being talkative to feeling excited, but a recently published study finally sheds some light on the processes that may be at work here.

A Social Quality Explanation

Smillie and colleagues (2015) first surveyed 225 undergraduates and showed that social wellbeing, a measure of the quality of one's social life, explained a third of the relationship between extraversion and positive affect. This effect was driven almost entirely by one dimension of social wellbeing, social contribution, a person's sense of having an influence on their social world, or having something valuable to give to society.

Since the correlational design of Study 1 could not establish causality, Smillie et al. ran a counterdispositional behaviour experiment for Study 2. In groups of 3, 81 undergraduate students completed two fun problem-solving tasks. One participant was instructed to act extraverted (i.e., bold, talkative, energetic, active, assertive, adventurous), another was asked to act introverted (i.e., reserved, quiet, lethargic, passive, compliant, unadventurous), and a third participant was given no acting instructions.

Consistent with previous research, participants who acted extraverted experienced more positive affect than participants who acted introverted, whether they were naturally more extraverted or introverted. But the key contribution of this study was in revealing that perceived contribution to discussion tasks explained 70% of the effect of acting extraverted on positive affect. In other words, participants who were acting extraverted felt happier because they felt that they contributed more to the group activities.

So, it looks like social processes do matter - but instead of the mere amount of time spent with others, it's the qualitative aspects of social experience that help to explain the relationship between extraverted behaviours and positive affect. Specifically, this study suggested that one reason why extraverts (and pseudo-extraverts) feel happier is that extraverts feel that they are contributing more strongly to their social world. A follow-up Honours thesis (not yet published) also replicated this effect and found that it extended to another mediator, social power - an individual's perception of their ability to influence others in a social context.

This is interesting - but before extrapolating further, we'll need to consider a couple of limitations. First, like all other studies using the counterdispositional behaviour paradigm, participants were university students. This means that further research is needed before it's safe to generalise that all people feel happier after acting extraverted. And it's especially important considering that the explanation for the extraversion-happiness link may vary depending on age. For example, as Smillie et al. suggest, it's plausible that social coherence, one's ability to make meaning out of social affairs, could have a stronger effect on positive affect for older adults.

A second limitation is that it's unclear whether the difference in positive affect was due to the happiness-boosting effects of acting extraverted, or the happiness-lowering effects of acting introverted. After all, it can't be much fun to be asked to be quiet, reserved and lethargic while being dominated by an extraverted participant and another participant who tends to act quite extraverted in this context anyway. Yet, there seems to be a lack of research on how acting extraverted makes other people feel ("affective presence"), compared to how it makes the extravert (or pseudo-extravert) themselves feel.

Similarly, at the Positive Psychology Interest Group Journal Club a few weeks ago, some suggested that the instructions for acting introverted were overly-negative. Maybe - but according to the dominant Big Five descriptive framework of personality, these are more-or-less the terms that describe introverted behaviours. Being introverted does not actually mean being "introspective" or "imaginative", although popular misconceptions abound regarding what introversion is.

Should Introverts Act More Extraverted?

A final few caveats on whether it's a good idea to act more extraverted. First, extraverted behaviours are most reliably linked to activated positive affect states and are unrelated to "deactivated" positive affect states (e.g., calm, relaxed, at-ease); states that some people may see as more long-lasting, valuable end-goals. 

Second, how a person feels is of course only one component of wellbeing, and this research does not say much about the effect of extraverted behaviours on, say, one's perceptions of meaning and purpose in life (although it's also worth noting that positive affect does predict an increased sense of meaning). Smillie et al. do show that extraversion predicts positive affect via one's sense of social contribution - an important aspect of wellbeing - but there is clearly plenty of scope for further research to clarify the nature of the relationship between extraversion and wellbeing more broadly construed.

Third, whereas there's been no evidence to suggest that acting extraverted incurs costs for introverts (interestingly, extraverts do seem to suffer cognitive costs after acting introverted), no research has investigated the long-term effects of counterdispositional behaviour, as it's possible that extended periods of acting extraverted could be more challenging for introverts. Brian Little has a lot more to say about the need for "restorative niches" after acting out of character.

Taken together, however, Smillie et al. contribute a valuable new perspective on why it feels good to be or act like an extravert. And despite the need for further investigation with broader samples, in everyday life, and across longer periods of time, I'm excited by the optimistic view that these studies present. It looks like happiness isn't dependent on a fixed property specific to dispositional extraverts, but is something that anyone can experience more of - and that it might be as simple as strategically choosing to act more extraverted when the situation calls for it.

-- Smillie, L., Wilt, J., Kabbani, R., Garratt, C., & Revelle, W. (2015). Quality of Social Experience Explains the Relation Between Extraversion and Positive Affect. Emotion DOI: 10.1037/emo0000047