A new Yale University study shows that cognitive curiosity, cognitive ability, melancholy, and introversion predict social psychological skills.
Introverts prone to melancholy show to be more astute at understanding how we behave in groups than their extraverted peers, the research found.
The study was conducted by Yale psychologists Anton Gollwitzer and John Bargh, and it investigates social psychological skill; skill at predicting social psychological phenomena.
More than 1,100 subjects were asked questions about how people on average feel, think, and behave in social situations: Do people work harder in groups or individually? Do they feel more responsible for their behavior in groups or as individuals?
They then identified traits of those who accurately answered these questions in a series of experiments.
Surprisingly, they found that introverts tended to answer more accurately than extroverts, as did people with lower self-esteem and those who reported being more lonely.
This could be due to the fact that introverts prone to melancholy spend more time observing others. In other words, they have fewer motivational biases, and they are good at introspection. “This seems to be a case of sadder but wiser,” Golwitzer told Yale News, “and demonstrates an unappreciated strength of introverts.”
Gollwitzer and Bargh wrote:
“Insights into social psychological phenomena have been thought of as solely attainable through empirical research. Our findings, however, indicate that some lay individuals can reliably judge established social psychological phenomena without any experience in social psychology. These results raise the striking possibility that certain individuals can predict the accuracy of unexplored social psychological phenomena better than others. Society could potentially harness individuals’ accuracy at inferring social psychological phenomena for beneficial means. Mastering social psychological principles, for example, may help us anticipate mass panics, political movements, and societal and cultural changes.”
Gollwitzer stressed that the individuals who scored high on tests about human nature do not have the same knowledge and skills as professional psychologists.
However, he also noted that natural social psychologists will not replace actual psychologists, but they could have an important role in the real world. “These ‘natural’ social psychologists, because they better understand social phenomena, may be able to interpret and even predict social changes in our society — maybe they are exactly what is missing from our current governance and positions of power,” he added.
In another interview for the BBC Gollwitzer said: “The people who really captured human social nature, who really were able to capture the social psychological aspects that we all universally understand, were writers like Hemingway or psychologists like William James. “They were able to do this, and they tended to be introverted, melancholy, observant, reflective about the world.”
Do you think you’re a natural born social psychologist? Why not find out by taking the test yourself?