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Introversion vs. Extraversion and Job Performance

August 14, 2014

Outgoing, sociable, enthusiastic, assertive, these are all adjectives that employers often use to describe the type of individuals that they want to work for their company.  Traits like these comprise the personality dimension known as extraversion. Because extraverted individuals tend to have high energy levels and are often go-getters, extraversion has emerged as an influential predictor of job performance in many jobs, although not for all.  For example,  in a recent article discussing the selection of individuals for long-term space missions, such as missions to Mars, it is implied that extraversion may actually be a disadvantage for these types of roles.

The article suggests that the outgoing and talkative nature of extraverts may be annoying to other members of the crew. Imagine being confined to a small space with someone who will not stop talking and is constantly full of energy.  Sounds pretty irritating right? Now imagine that situation occurring everyday for up to three years? Seems almost unbearable. We can imagine how this situation may be detrimental to teamwork and morale when certain crew members do not enjoy being around one another.

However, the other crew members are not the only ones suffering in this situation. It is also believed that the extraverted individuals themselves may have a hard time dealing with this situation since they always want to be active and participate in new things. Being confined to a shuttle in space does not allow for many engaging activities. Therefore, it is suggested that introverts, the quieter and more reserved individuals, may be better suited for these types of missions.

This speculation is supported by research conducted at Select International. Specifically, in a study investigating commercial truck drivers, the researchers found that introversion may be beneficial for performance as well. Similar to the astronauts in a space shuttle, truck drivers are confined to a small space for long periods of time. Additionally, truck drivers are often alone on the road and do not have the option to interact with others. On top of that, they must remain focused on the road in front of them and should not engage in other activities beyond listening to music. The vigilance required in this position and the lack of stimulation would suggest that introverts would perform better in this type of situation. In their study, the researchers from Select International found exactly that! Specifically, extraversion was negatively related to performance of commercial truck drivers as rated by their supervisors. Additional research demonstrates that introverts experience fewer accidents, traffic convictions, and have quicker reactions to traffic signs as well. These results suggest that increased vigilance is extremely beneficial in the truck-driving environment.

Taken together, these two sources of information suggest that introverted individuals may be better at their jobs than extroverted individuals in certain contexts. The question still remains, which is preferred extraversion or introversion? The answer lies in the characteristics of the work environment in question. For instance, extraverted individuals may excel in an environment that is heavily dependent on interacting with others such as being in a sales or management role, while introverted individuals may outshine their extraverted counterparts in environments that provide little stimulation and require a great deal of vigilance and attention, such as a space mission to Mars.

As with any personality trait, it’s important to focus on the target position in order to determine what level of that trait is related to success on the job.  Extraverts may be better suited to some roles, while introverts to others!

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Alli Besl, Ph.D. Alli Besl, Ph.D. was a Research Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. Her areas of expertise include: employee turnover, selection and recruitment.