Can You Be Social AND Introspective?

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Synopsis

Solitude and introspection can lead to a life full of connection, creativity, and meaning.

Sociability: Inclined to associated with or be in the company of others.

Introspection: Observation of examination of one’s own mental and emotional state, mental processes, etc.; the act of looking within oneself.

The fundamental human needs for connection and reflection enrich our lives, and infuse it with meaning and growth. However, we often treat the two as though they were on a seesaw: the more you have one in your life, the less you have the other. For instance, we often talk as though the more reflective you are as a person, the less social you are, or the more social you are, the less you engage in introspection.

But are these really diametrically opposed ways of being, or instead, are they both on their own, independent seesaws, in great harmony with each other? Usually different forms of solitude and sociability are lumped together. So being the uber-nerd that I am, I went in and analyzed a preexisting dataset I had sitting on my computer. It’s from the Eugene-Springfield community sample, which consisted of 500+ participants from Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 85 years, and spanned all levels of educational attainment.

This dataset is great because it has so many personality variables in it. What I was most interested in– and what I had not seen analyzed before– is an analysis of all of the items relating to “sociability” and all of the items related to “introspection”. I put all of the items into one big pot, and through various “factor analysis” techniques, I came up with a reasonable– and I think meaningful– set of four factors:

1. Preference for solitude 

 Prefer to be left alone, want to be left alone, seek quiet, don’t like crowded events

2. Enjoyment of solitude

Enjoy spending time by myself, amuse myself easily

3. Introspection

Spend time reflecting on things, enjoy contemplation, like to ponder over things

4. Nonconformity

Have a point of view all my own, go my own way, live in a world of my own, do things at my own pace

Where do you stand on these four factors? Are you high in some and low in others? High in them all? Low in them all? While each of these four factors were positively correlated with each other, I found they were also partially distinct from each other. Most notably, a preference for solitude was much more strongly correlated with enjoyment of solitude (+.48) and nonconformity (+.47) than with introspection (+.17). What this means is that just because you enjoy reflecting deeply on yourself and the world doesn’t mean that you necessarily prefer to be alone. On the flip side, just because you prefer to be alone doesn’t mean you will be particularly reflective when alone.

How do these four factors relate to the rest of personality? I did a bunch of analyses, but I’ll report the major findings here (the number in parentheses are correlations, ranging from -1 to +1, and all reported correlations were statistically significant).

Sociability

A preference for solitude was associated with reduced levels of gregariousness (-.72), warmth (-.42), poise (-.39), positive emotions (-.32), excitement seeking (-.31), leadership (-.25), assertiveness (-.23), and activity (-.22), However, enjoyment of solitude was only related to reduced levels of gregariousness (-.33) and excitement seeking (-.14), and was positively correlated with poise (+.11). Note that the correlations were much smaller than with a preference for solitude. These findings suggest that there are many people who enjoy solitude and are still very outgoing, happy, positive, warm, and assertive. Introspection was also associated with reduced levels of gregariousness but the correlation was very small (-.14). Surprisingly, introspection was associated with increasedlevels of leadership (+.20) and assertiveness (+.11). Nonconformity was only associated with reduced levels of gregariousness (-.42), warmth (-0.15), and poise (-.10).

Negative Emotions

A preference for solitude was correlated with higher levels of self-consciousness (+.20), depression (+.12), and hostility (+.10). In contrast, enjoyment of solitude was correlated with reduced vulnerability to stress (-.23), anxiety (-.22), depression (-.21), hostility (-.17), self-consciousness (-.14), and increased levels of tranquility (+.12) and cool-headedness (+.12). I think this is a fascinating finding: enjoyment of solitude seems to be highly adaptive! This seems to vindicate the English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, who argued that the capacity for solitude can be one of the greatest markers of psychological health, particularly when you are comfortable with who you are while alone. Introspection and nonconformity were both correlated with lower levels of tranquility (-.24 and -.11, respectively). Unsurprisingly, nonconformity was additionally correlated with higher levels of hostility (+.18).

Agreeableness

A preference for solitude was correlated with reduced levels of compassion (-.28), altruism (-.24), trust (-.20), tender-mindedness (-.14), and empathy (-.12), whereas enjoyment of solitude was correlated with increased levels of empathy (+.19), trust (+.14), politeness (+.14), straightforwardness (+.11), and compliance (+.10). Introspection was correlated with reduced levels of straightforwardness (-.12), but was correlated with increased levels of empathy (+.42) and compassion (+.20). Unsurprisingly, nonconformity was correlated with reduced levels of compliance (-.20), politeness (-.19), straightforwardness (-.14), altruism (-.12), and trust (-.10), but showed a small positive correlation with empathy (+.12).

Conscientiousness

A preference for solitude was correlated with reduced levels of competence (-.10), achievement striving (-.10), and self-discipline (-.10), whereas enjoyment of solitude was correlated with increased levels of competence (+.13) and deliberation (+.11). Introspection and nonconformity were both correlated with increased levels of achievement striving (+.10 and +.09, respectively).

Inner Life

Finally, let’s look at the activity of the mind: intelligence and imagination. For this analysis, I cast a broader net of personality characteristics because I believe that intelligence and imagination are central to distinguishing between these four variables.

First, all four variables were positively related to IQ. The strongest correlation was between IQ and introspection (+.26), and the weakest correlation was between IQ and a preference for solitude (+.10). However, these correlations were rather small, and probably not significantly different from each other. The real differences can be seen when we look at other metrics of intelligence and imagination.

Enjoyment of solitude was correlated with quickness of thought (+.26), ingenuity (+.19), intellectual competence (+.19), creativity (+.18), reflection (+.17), fantasy (+.16), and appreciation of beauty (+.16). This finding is consistent with Jerome Singer’s discovery of  a group of “happy daydreamers“: people who enjoy vivid imagery and fantasy, and use daydreaming for plotting out their future. Interestingly, the only intelligence and imagination-related variables that were correlated with a preference for solitude was less openness to one’s full range of emotions and feelings (-.17) and difficulty describing (+.25) and identifying (+.14) one’s feelings.

Introspection showed much stronger correlations with these variables. Introspection was correlated with increased levels of creativity (+.49), fantasy (+.46), reflection (+.41), quickness (+.41), appreciation of beauty (+.40), ingenuity (+.36), and intellectual competence (+.31). Additionally, introspection was correlated with increased levels of intellectual depth (+.56) and openness to one’s full range of emotions and feelings (+.31). Finally, nonconformity was correlated with intellectual depth (+.39), creativity (+.32), fantasy (+.30), ingenuity (+.25), quickness (+.23), intellectual competence (+.20), openness to one’s full range of emotions and feelings (+.19), appreciation of beauty (+.16), and reflection (+.13).

Summary

As you can see, sociability and introspection aren’t opposites; and can actually be in harmony with each other. This finely-grained analysis shows that it’s worth making a distinction between (a) having a preference for solitude, (b) enjoying solitude, (c) enjoying introspection and reflection, and (d) nonconformity/dancing to the beat of a different drummer. These four variables do tend to be positively related to each other, but scoring high on one doesn’t necessarily predict that you will score high on the others. In fact, without any additional context, just having a preference for being alone (vs. spending time with others) seems maladaptive, whereas embracing alone time seems to be related to psychological health and an active fantasy life. It’s clear: Solitude and introspection can lead to a life full of connection, creativity, and meaning.

© 2016 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved

This article originally appeared at Scientific American.

Based on psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman’s groundbreaking research and Carolyn Gregoire’s popular article in the Huffington Post, Wired to Create offers a glimpse inside the “messy minds” of highly creative people. Revealing the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology, along with engaging examples of artists and innovators throughout history, the book shines a light on the practices and habits of mind that promote creative thinking. Kaufman and Gregoire untangle a series of paradoxes— like mindfulness and daydreaming, seriousness and play, openness and sensitivity, and solitude and collaboration – to show that it is by embracing our own contradictions that we are able to tap into our deepest creativity. Each chapter explores one of the ten attributes and habits of highly creative people: 
 

Tags: agreeableness, conscientiousness, inner life, introspection, negative emotions, scott barry kaufman, sociability

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