Yale Study: Sad, Lonely Introverts Are Natural Born Social Psychologists

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Cognitive curiosity, cognitive ability, melancholy, and introversion predict social psychological skill, a new Yale study shows. Co-authored by Anton Gollwitzer and John Bargh, two Yale psychologists, the study titled “Social Psychological Skill and Its Correlates” explores and investigates social psychological skill; skill at predicting social psychological phenomena. The study was published in the journal Social Psychology, on March 15.

The authors asked more than 1.000 subjects about how people think, act, and feel in social contexts. The two psychologists began the survey – which can be found and taken on the university’s official website – by asking: “Can you accurately infer how most people feel, think, and behave in social context?” Gollwitzer and Bargh did a series of experiments to try and identify traits of those who accurately answered the questions.

Six separate studies were conducted. In Study 1, the authors assessed whether individual differences in social psychological skill exist. In Study 2, the authors examined which psychological variables predict social psychological skill. Study 3 aimed to replicate the findings of Study 2, and Study 4 aimed to replicate Study 3, while controlling for participants’ science test-taking skill. In Study 5, the authors assessed whether psychological skill relates to skill at intuitive physics, and examined self-deception a motivational bias of participants. And lastly, in Study 6, the researchers tested whether psychological skill relates to judgments about the cause of another individual’s actions.

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Prior research has shown that people work harder individually than in groups, at least on average. Furthermore, we feel more responsible as individuals, than in groups. The key predictors of social psychological skill were the willingness to tackle a complex problem and cognitive ability, the authors claim.

Interestingly, the authors also found that lonely individuals, as well as individuals with lower self-esteem, tended to answer questions more accurately. Likewise, introverts answered more accurately than extroverts. According to Gollwitzer, this could be due to the fact that introverted individuals prone to melancholy spend more time observing others. Simply put, they have fewer motivational biases, and they’re good at introspection. This, Gollwitzer told Yale News “seems to be a case of sadder but wiser,” and “demonstrates an unappreciated strength of introverts.”

Gollwitzer and Bargh wrote the following.

“Insights into social psychological phenomena have been thought of as solely attainable through empirical research. Our findings, however, indicate that some lay individuals can reliably judge established social psychological phenomena without any experience in social psychology. These results raise the striking possibility that certain individuals can predict the accuracy of unexplored social psychological phenomena better than others. Society could potentially harness individuals’ accuracy at inferring social psychological phenomena for beneficial means. Mastering social psychological principles, for example, may help us anticipate mass panics, political movements, and societal and cultural changes.”

Natural born social psychologists might not replace actual psychologists, but they could have an important role in the real world. Introverts have a great understanding of social phenomena, which means they have to unique ability to interpret, even predict, social changes. They are, perhaps, the missing piece of the complex puzzle that is our society.