Maybe you’ve heard of the friendship paradox, the somewhat mind-bending idea that most of your friends probably have more friends than you do. A new study in Psychological Science builds on that concept, adding a psychological dimension to the paradox — not only are your friends likely to be more popular than you are, they’re probably more extroverted, too, argue Daniel C. Feiler and Adam M. Kleinbaum, both of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.
Feiler and Kleinbaum explain the friendship paradox in their paper this way: “[A]s one has more connections, one is present in a greater number of other people’s networks. Therefore, people’s social networks disproportionately contain individuals that have many connections.” And because of extroverts’ innately social natures, the researchers expected that they will form more friendships than introverts, which would lead to an overrepresentation of extroverts in most social networks.
To test their theory, they used 284 first-year business-school students, and surveyed them twice: once five weeks into the semester and again six weeks later. Both times, the researchers provided a list of all the students in the MBA program, and asked each students to check a box next to the names of the people they considered friends. The students also took personality tests, which measured, among other things, their levels of extroversion and introversion. And, as they expected, they did find that the more extroverted a student was, the more likely he or she was to be listed as a friend by another student. They also found that students with similar levels of extroversion were more likely to list each other as friends.
What this means, they explain in their paper, is that most social networks are overpopulated with extroverts, and this effect becomes more extreme the more extroverted a person is — because extroverts, apparently, flock together, the more extroverted you are means you, in turn, will know more extroverts. They write that this may cause people to feel as if most people are more extroverted than they really are, when the perception is really just a trick of the way social networks form. “If you’re more extroverted, you may really have a skewed view of how extroverted other people are,” Feiler said in the press release. “If you’re very introverted you might actually have a pretty accurate idea.”