Being alone and being in company are both key components to being human. As we settle into a second wave of lockdown, the negative experiences of social isolation pose a challenge to everyone.
In a recent study published in Social Psychology, 1,700 participants were asked to perform a sentence-completion task to assess their experiences alone versus their experiences in company. Conducted by Bar-Ilan University, the study found that when we think of ourselves in social situations, we focus more on the present than on the past or future. In other words, we try to analyze our behaviour, our feelings, and our responses within the confines of the social moment in consideration. The study found that in these social moments, we tend to feel more anxiety and anger, and less sadness, compared to when alone.
The opposite effects are true when we reflect on our time alone. According to the study, “time alone” often provides us with the opportunity to look forward to our future plans and reminisce about moments from our past. Although both activities can equally cause anxiety or sadness, Dr. Liad Uziel, head of the study, argues that time alone is just as constructive to our overall well-being as entertaining our social appetite.
Discussions around “being social” and “being alone” often run parallel to discussions about “extroverts” and “introverts”, contributing to several incorrect stereotypes. However, in 2013, Susan Cain started the Quiet Revolution— a project dedicated to creating a world in which “everyone’s quiet strength—no matter what their personality type—is validated.”
One myth that Quiet Revolution writer Adam Grant aims to debunk is the idea that “Extroverts get energy from social interaction, whereas introverts get energy from privately reflecting on their thoughts and feelings.” Extensive research has shown that this claim is false. As Dr. Uziel’s study points out, all human beings are social. In actuality, introverts spend just as much time in social situations as extroverts, and even enjoy it just as much.
Grant notes that this should come as no surprise: there is a “fundamental human need to belong.” But while there’s no difference to our source of energy, there is a difference in our sensitivity to stimulation. Introverts feel overstimulated by prolonged social activity. At that point of exhaustion, introverts are likely to seek solo time. Extroverts, on the other hand, seek more stimulating social settings and activities.
So, to dispel the myth once and for all, Grant notes that “introversion-extroversion is about more than just social interaction.” Perhaps it will be helpful to all if we stop pretending that both groups fall neatly into a category of either social-butterfly or social-hermit.
Along with Covid-19, came new analyses of how introverts cope with social isolation versus how extroverts cope. Alex Berg of NBC News compares his pandemic experience as an extrovert to the experience of his wife, an introvert. Berg notes that for extroverts like himself, cutting off from the social scene can be extremely challenging. While Berg envies his wife’s “ability to look inward”, he recognizes that the Covid-19 pandemic is “not necessarily a breeze for introverts, either”, as some might think. Everyone, introverts and extroverts alike, are trying to cope with these new and unpredictable circumstances.
So, while introverts do seek alone time to recharge, living in social isolation does not necessarily equal paradise. Another study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that circumstantial changes caused by Ccovid-19 affect the psychological well-being of introverts, rather than any cognitive factor.
As Dr. Uziel’s study shows, “One needs a combination of constructive alone and social experiences, as each type of social setting contributes much-needed, unique advantages.” Human beings, introverts and extroverts alike, require both time alone and time with others to function optimally. Dr. Uziel notes that for those facing the second wave of lockdowns alone, quality time for contemplation and reflection can provide an opportunity for personal growth. No matter how comfortable you feel when you are alone, craving connections with others is part of being human.