The Surprising Personality Type That Loves Being Alone (Hint: It's Not Introverts)
Kelly Gonsalves is the sex and relationships editor at mindbodygreen. Her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
What is an introvert, really?
Among tendencies toward being more quiet, reserved, or even shy, one of the biggest qualities we associate with introversion is a preference for being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, supposedly thrive in social settings and generally loathe solitude.
Not so fast. That long-held association between alone time and these two personality types might not be as sound as we all like to assume, according to a new study.
Over the course of three seven-day experiments, researchers asked hundreds of college students to journal about their daily social interactions and periods of solitude, noting why they decided to engage in each type of activity and how they felt during it. One of the experiments also specifically asked them to spend 15 minutes alone for each of the seven days without their phones or any other distractions. After also collecting data about each participants' personalities, the researchers were surprised to find the connection between being an introvert and enjoying alone time to be tenuous at best. Introverts didn't appear to like the solitary time any more than the extroverts did, though the former did experience fewer negative thoughts while by themselves.
So who did enjoy the alone time? The researchers described them as people high in "dispositional autonomy," which refers to a person's tendency to behave based on their own self-motivated interests and decisions. Basically, these were people who tended to be both independent and markedly mindful of their own emotions.
"Dispositional autonomy is characterized by a tendency toward self-congruence, interest in one's own experiences, and a lower vulnerability to social controls," the paper notes. "Individuals high in this construct tend to behave in ways that are consistent with their beliefs and values, are open to experience whatever feelings and experiences they might have, and are not prone to self-shaming and internally imposed pressures."
More than anyone else, these autonomous folks tended to be more satisfied with their experience of alone time, didn't have as many negative thoughts during it, and generally felt like their psychological needs were being met from it.
Intuitively, this makes sense: More independent people would of course enjoy being able to be on their own and make decisions without concerns about others, and according to these findings, that sense of independence probably affects your attitude toward these solo experiences more so than your level of shyness or sociability. The joys of intentional solitude stem from the freedom it gives you—not the refuge you get from the anxiety and awkwardness of human interaction.
"Being alone allows you time to be selfish and to do things that complete you. It opens pathways in your mind that were previously blocked by life's chaos," performance coach Miranda Hill writes. "Solitude is unbridled possibility. Your mind and spirit are free to dream. You can live as you please. You decide the what, how, and when of your every moment."
Do you love being alone? Based on these findings, that doesn't necessarily mean you're introverted. You might love spending time with people—and at the same time also take great pleasure in the prospect of being able to focus on you and only you.
Now that we know the predilection for alone time isn't really an accurate barometer for your personality, it might be time for you to reconsider whether you're really an introvert, an extrovert, or maybe some combination of the two. Start with this personality quiz to get to know yourself better, and maybe give this solo-centric social experiment a whirl to see how you're really responding to more alone time. You might be surprised by what you find.
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