I like to think I’m good at reading people and picking up on certain energies. I can walk into a room and sense if the majority of people are stressed, happy, excited, content. I can talk to someone for a few minutes and determine if they’re more or less a good, bad, or decent person. You’re probably thinking, “Well yeah, pretty much everybody can do that.” But I’m telling you: some people have a gift, and I’m one of them!
In all seriousness, some people really are better than others at picking up on certain vibes and more or less reading and understanding human nature. And according to researchers at Yale, it’s an unlikely group. According to this study “Social Psychological Skill and Its Correlates,” melancholic introverts are more perceptive than others in understanding how we act in social groups. “It seems to be a case of sadder, but wiser,” Anton Gollwitzer, Yale psychologist and co-author of the study told Neuroscience News. “They don’t view the world through rose-colored glasses as jovial, and extroverted people do.”
To investigate “social psychological skill,” the researchers conducted a few experiments. In one, they asked over 1,000 subjects questions relating to how people feel, think, and feel in social environments. Some of these questions included: Do people work harder alone or with others? Do people feel more responsible for their behavior in groups or as individuals? Does catharsis (e.g., if I’m angry, punching a doll will make me feel better) work?
The researchers then compared the subjects’ answers to the correct answers, which have been discovered in extensive social psychology research. For example, studies have shown that people typically work harder individually as opposed to working in groups. People also feel less responsible in groups, and the answer is no: hitting a doll when you’re angry isn’t cathartic and doesn’t make you feel better.
After they discovered who answered these questions correctly, the research team then conducted further experiments to identify common traits among these individuals. They first found that intelligence and the desire to engage with complex issues was a key predictor, which was expected. But then, they found an unexpected key predictor: introversion. Introverts as well as people with lower self-esteem and people who reported greater feelings of loneliness tended to answer more accurately than extroverts.
Gollwitzer further attempts to explain this interesting discovery: “It could be that the melancholic, introverted people are spending more time observing human nature than those who are busy interacting with others, or they are more accurate at introspection because they have fewer motivational biases. Either way, though, this demonstrates an unappreciated strength of introverts.”
Yale (2018, March 15). Who is Best at Understanding Human Interactions? Those Who Are Lonely and Sad. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved March 15, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/sad-lonely-understanding-8644/
Gollwitzer, A., Barghe, J. A. (2018, March 15). Social Psychological Skill and Its Correlates. Social Psychology. Retrieved on March 16, 2018 from https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/full/10.1027/1864-9335/a000332