You Get More Introverted With Age, According to Science

A woman gets more introverted as she gets older

We all get more introverted as we get older, even the most extroverted among us.

I’m a classic introvert, but in my teens and twenties, it was normal for me to spend almost every weekend with friends. Now, in my thirties, the perfect weekend is one with zero social plans.

I’m not the only one socializing less now. My extroverted friend, for example, used to run through her entire contact list calling friends every time she was alone in her car. She told me she hated the quiet, the emptiness of it, because being alone was just so boring.

You know, for the entire 10-15 minutes it took to drive to the grocery store. Oh, the horror.

These days, I can rarely get her out for brunch or coffee. She’s content spending most nights at home with her husband and two kids. And I haven’t gotten one of her infamous calls in years.

So what gives? Do we get more introverted as we get older?

Probably, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — and this is actually a good thing. Let me explain.

Why We Become More Introverted With Age

In a post on Quiet Revolution, Cain confirmed my suspicions: We act more introverted as we get older. Psychologists call this “intrinsic maturation.” It means our personalities become more balanced “like a kind of fine wine that mellows with age,” writes Cain.

Other research shows that our personalities do indeed change over time, and lucky for us, it’s usually for the better. For example, we become more emotionally stable, agreeable, and conscientious as we grow up, with the largest change in agreeableness happening during our thirties, and continuing to improve into our sixties. “Agreeableness” is one of the traits measured by the Big Five personality scale, and people who are high in it are warm, friendly, and optimistic.

We also become quieter and more self-contained, needing less “people time” and excitement to feel a sense of happiness.

Psychologists have observed intrinsic maturation in people around the world, from Germany, the UK, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Turkey. And it’s not just humans; they’ve seen it happen to chimps and monkeys, too.

It’s why we slow down as we get older and start enjoying a quieter, calmer life. And yes, this happens to both introverts and extroverts.

Becoming More Introverted Is a Good Thing

From an evolutionary standpoint, becoming more introverted as we age makes sense, and it’s probably a good thing.

“High levels of extroversion probably help with mating, which is why most of us are at our most sociable during our teenage and young adult years,” writes Cain.

In other words, acting more extroverted when you’re young helps you make important social connections and ultimately meet a life partner. (Cue the flashbacks to awkward high school dances and “welcome week” in college.)

Then (at least in theory), by the time we reach our 30s, we’ve committed to a life path and a long-term relationship. We may have kids, a job, a spouse, and a mortgage — our lives are stable. Thus it becomes less important to constantly be branching out in new directions and meeting new people.

(Note that I said, “in theory.” In my 30s, I still don’t have kids, a mortgage, and a wedding ring. These days we have the luxury of not following evolution’s “script.”)

“If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been,” explains Cain.

In the married-with-children years, think of how difficult it would be to raise a family and love the one you’re with if you were constantly popping into the next party. Even if you don’t marry and/or have kids, it would be hard to focus on your career, your health, and your life goals in general if you were constantly hanging out with friends.

Once an Introvert, Always an Introvert

But there’s a catch. Our personalities only change so much.

In my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, I like to say that our personalities change but our temperaments don’t.

That means, if you’re an introvert, you’ll always be an introvert, even when you’re 90 years old. And if you’re an extrovert — even though you’ll slow down with age — you’ll always be an extrovert.

I’m talking big-picture here. Who you are at your core.

(Read more about why you can’t stop being an introvert here.)

Research confirms this phenomenon. In 2004, Harvard psychologists Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman studied individuals as babies, then checked in with them years later when they grew into adults. In one study, they presented the babies with unfamiliar stimuli and recorded their reactions. Some babies got upset, crying and thrashing their arms and legs; these babies were deemed “highly reactive” to their environment.

Other babies didn’t get upset at all and remained calm around the new stimuli; these were the “low reactive” babies.

Later, when Kagan and Snidman returned to these same people, they found that the individuals who were “highly reactive” as babies grew up to be more cautious and fearful. The “low reactive” babies generally remained sociable and daring as adults.

The bottom line? Our most basic temperament — cautious or sociable, introverted or extroverted — doesn’t change dramatically with age.

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An Example: Your High School Reunion

Consider, for example, your high school reunion.

Let’s say you were very introverted in high school — perhaps the third most introverted person in your graduating class. As you’ve aged, you’ve become more confident, agreeable, and comfortable in your own skin, but you’ve also become somewhat more introverted. If you liked hanging out with friends, say, once a week in high school, maybe in your thirties, you’re fine with seeing them only once a month.

When you attend your ten-year high school reunion, you notice everyone has slowed down a bit. They’re all enjoying a more calm, stable life. But the people who you remember as being very extroverted in high school are still much more extroverted than you.

You’re still approximately the third most introverted person in your class — but the whole group has moved a little more to the introverted side.

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it might be the very thing we need to flourish as adults. If there’s one thing we introverts know, it’s just how satisfying a quiet life can be.

Have you become more introverted as you’ve gotten older? Let me know in the comments below. 

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