Introverts Don’t Enjoy Solitude Any More Than Extroverts, New Study Finds

There’s a difference between seeking alone time and savoring it.

Most people assume that introverts enjoy their own company more than anyone else’s. But people experience solitude in different ways, and whether it’s a pleasant experience or a negative one depends on more than just your personality type, according to a pre-print paper on PsyArXiv.

Even more than introversion, the trait that really determines if you’ll get the most out of your alone time is “dispositional autonomy,” or a deep interest in your own thoughts, researchers revealed. While the findings still need to be peer-reviewed, they are based on a well-accepted theory that people high in this trait are interested in their personal experiences and emotions, lead author Thuy-vy T. Nguyen, Ph.D., at The University of Rochester tells Inverse via email. It makes sense then that people who score high in autonomy want to spend time by themselves.

Nguyen explains that there are two main types of solitude that people seek: reactive solitude and constructive solitude.

“Engaging in reactive solitude means someone desires solitude over interacting with others,” she says. “However, the distinction recognizes that someone can pursue solitude in its own right, not relating to how they feel about interacting with others.”

Reactive solitude is the kind of alone time you may seek at a family reunion, when you just really need some space from everyone, Nguyen says. However, constructive solitude is independent of how fed up you are with your relatives. Nguyen explains it as “the pursuit of solitude for its intrinsic values and benefits.” It’s the difference between being alone to avoid others, and being alone to be with yourself.

This distinction is important, according to the new study findings, because if people don’t feel that they have chosen to be alone, and they seek solitude as an escape from others, they are unlikely to find it enjoyable — even if they are introverts.

Nguyen identified this trend in three different experiments, where she had three cohorts of over 170 undergrads fill out diary entries and questionnaires that both distilled aspects of their personality. In one of the experiments, for example, she asked participants to reflect on their experience of 15 minutes of solitude per day.

She found that people who exhibited “avoidant attachment” — people who avoid closeness with others — tended to prefer solitude, but their moments alone were plagued by negative thoughts. In contrast, people who had high dispositional autonomy, or interest in their own thoughts, tended to seek constructive solitude and had more positive experiences of it.

Over the course of her analysis, Nguyen noted that whether people enjoyed solitude came down to the type of alone time they chose and their autonomy. And among both introverts and extroverts, there were people who do not fit this description.

“It appears that the pursuit of solitude for its intrinsic values and benefits and the ability to enjoy it is more a function of how an individual regulates themselves,” Nguyen says. “We see this as a new advancement to the literature that warrants further research.”

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