Social Interactions and Well-Being

Which Kinds of Social Experiences Matter for Well-Being?

Social relationships are often said to be among the most important causes of well-being. Past research clearly shows that people tend to feel happier when they are socializing than when they are alone. What is less clear is which kinds of social interactions matter for well-being, and for whom.

Extraverts tend to be better off across most dimensions of well-being (Sun, Kaufman, & Smillie, 2018, J. of Personality). Intriguingly, however, even introverts feel happier and more authentic when they act more extraverted in the moment (Sun et al., 2017, Emotion; Wilt, Sun, Jacques-Hamilton, & Smillie, R&R). Could people become happier if they intentionally act more extraverted? Providing the first published evidence of the viability of an extraverted behavior well-being intervention, my collaborators and I found that most people feel happier when they act “in a bold, talkative, outgoing, active, and assertive way” for one week (Jacques-Hamilton, Sun, & Smillie, 2019, JEP:G). However, we also found that extreme introverts experience fewer benefits—and even some costs (e.g., feeling tired and inauthentic)—of acting extraverted for an entire week.

Which social experiences are more beneficial for introverts? Popular portrayals suggest that “introverts have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions” (Cain, 2012, p. 11). To test this idea, I combined data from the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), an unobtrusive audio recording device that recorded 30-second audio snippets of peoples’ real-world behavior every 9.5 minutes, with experience sampling method (ESM) reports of their momentary well-being several times per day. I found that people experience greater well-being when observers think that the person is having deeper and more self-disclosing conversations than usual (based on EAR recordings; Sun, Harris, & Vazire, 2020, JPSP). In addition, deeper-than-usual conversations were even more strongly associated with feelings of social connectedness for introverts than for extraverts.

Thus, my findings suggest that people could improve their well-being by bringing greater energy and depth to their everyday social interactions; however, personality traits may shape which social experiences are particularly beneficial. Thus, well-being interventions should be tailored to the individual’s personality.

Which Pairings of Personality Traits Predict Better Social Experiences?

A second important aspect of social interactions is who we share them with. In future work, I plan to investigate which dyadic pairings of personality traits predict better social experiences. Past work on personality compatibility has generally focused on the context of romantic relationships and more on global outcomes (e.g., relationship satisfaction) than on how much we enjoy our social interactions in the moment with the various people (e.g., friends, colleagues) we encounter in our daily lives. Past work has also focused on overall similarity on specific traits (e.g., similarity on agreeableness). In future work, I plan to use response surface analysis to provide more detailed answer about how (mis)matches matter. I also hope to use machine learning approaches to examine more complex patterns of personality compatibility based on data-driven combinations of multiple traits. I am especially excited about applying these predictive insights to social matching contexts (e.g., roommate assignment, ideal composition of teams, networking events).

Jessie Sun
Jessie Sun
Assistant Professor

My research interests include well-being, moral psychology, social interactions, and personality.