You are probably more of an extrovert than you think you are

Do you think that your friends are more popular than you? Then you're not alone. Social psychology has found statistical evidence to support this view. Strangely, we often think that our friends have more friends than we do. This is a well-known phenomenon known as the friendship paradox.

Daniel C. Feiler and Adam M. Kleinbaum, both members of Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College, USA, conducted their research on a class of MBA students at the start of the academic year. The first study focused on the formation of social networks, while the second analyzed behavior, in particular the way that biased samples can affect decision making. Both researchers wanted to measure how much our perception of social norms are influenced by the ideas of those around us.

The study published in Psychological Science, required 284 students to analyze the way in which friendship networks developed between students at the beginning of the school year. The students were asked to complete two questionnaires at five and eleven weeks into the term. The first was a class roster where they could indicate the people with whom they socialized, and the second test was to determine their personality traits, including their degree of extroversion.

According to Feiler “If you're more extroverted, you might really have a skewed idea of how people are in general. If you are very introverted you might actually have a very accurate idea.” The results of the questionnaires indicate two key factors in the formation of social networks. The first factor is the degree of extroversion: extroverts are more outgoing and find it easier to make friends. The second factor is our tendency to become friends with people who resemble ourselves, or in this case people who have the same degree of extroversion. Hence, extroverts tend to have more friends who are extroverts, and their facility to make new friends means that they are disproportionately represented in social networks. Each social network is thus more extroverted than the general population, which leads to a false interpretation if you are also an extrovert. The more extroverted you are the more skewed this bias becomes.

In contrast, introverts have a more precise idea of the general population, because they are less affected by the friendship paradox. According to the research, only the most introverted, just 1% of the population, have networks which are representative of the general population.

"There's a fundamental assumption in psychology that inferences about social norms are based on the people we interact with,” Feiler said. “And if that's the case, then we need to consider that our social network is a biased sample."

And that's why many people may feel less extroverted than they really are.
Source: Feiler D.C., Kleinbaum A. M. Popularity, Similarity, and the Network Extraversion Bias. Psychol Sci. 2015 May;26(5):593-603. doi: 10.1177/0956797615569580.

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