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The Benefits of Being "Boring"

Being a big talker doesn't make you more interesting, anyway.

Key points

  • Generalizing introverted people with negative characteristics is false and harmful because introversion can carry many positive attributes.
  • Balancing between other-focused and self-focused values is critical so as to achieve psychological well-being and life satisfaction.
  • There can be a joy to being “boring” that can accompany a more measured, quiet, introverted personality style.

In a recent study using online surveys of adults in the U.S. and U.K., Van Tilburg, et al, (2022) asked adult survey participants to provide characteristics of a boring person based on someone they knew. These characteristics included being dull, as well as having no interests, no opinions, and no sense of humor.

The researchers then followed up with additional surveys. They found that those perceived as boring were viewed as lacking warmth and competence. In addition, they were avoided interpersonally. Moreover, being subjected to a boring person was perceived as burdensome. These results clearly suggest that being considered boring is a negative personality characteristic.

Being boring is frequently tied to another personality characteristic—that of introversion. Conversely, the common traits of extroverts—those who are outgoing and gregarious—are considered socially desirable. In an Australian study, Lawn, et al, (2019) found that those inclined toward introversion may suffer psychologically if they view their introverted style as a personality deficit.

Why Are Introverts Sometimes Seen as Boring?

So, why are those who are interpersonally more reserved subject to the negative attribution of being boring? This stereotype of the quiet individual who is inclined to privacy being viewed as a boring person may reflect a push in American culture, and perhaps Western cultures more broadly, toward unbridled extroversion to the point of psychological exhibitionism. Consider the “all disclosing” reality television shows, the grasping for fame through outrageous behavior for media attention, and ubiquitous posting on social media of one’s life and activities as means to gain the attention of others.

By contrast, researchers Bauer and Wayment (2008) describe the quiet ego as “a way of construing the self that transcends egotism, not by neglecting the self but rather by facilitating a balance of concerns for the self and others as well as by facilitating the growth of the self and others.” (p. 1). The quiet ego is not synonymous with a deflated ego. Among identified characteristics of the quiet ego is the ability to take another’s perspective and identify with others.

In their definition of the quiet ego, Bauer and Wayment highlight the values that drive those with such and how it represents a balance between other-focused and self-focused values. Self-focused values include drives for power, achievement, and stimulation, which can direct how one interacts with others. By contrast, other-focused values are driven by tradition, benevolence, and concern for others, although they may be anchored in conformity and tradition.

The balance is key. Not being over-focused on self, yet also not submerging one’s needs and wants to that of others, reflects this balance. The balance between self- and other-focused values contributes to psychological well-being and life satisfaction.

What does a person with a quiet ego look like? Bauer and Wayment (2008), among other researchers, find these associated characteristics: less defensive, interprets situations holistically, and can consider different perspectives rather than focusing on how to buttress their own point of view.

Susan Cain, in her best-selling book Quiet, made the point that there was power in being quiet, and that introversion can be a gift, a blessing. The source of this well-being may come from the quiet ego. In their survey of Australian adults, Lawn et al. (2019) provide empirical support for that contention. They found that higher introversion traits predicted well-being and authenticity. That is, introverts were more genuine (authentic or being their true selves) which in turn is associated with a sense of well-being.

Lawn and colleagues make this point: it may be overvaluing extroversion as socially more desirable than introversion that may be problematic. Lawn and colleagues labeled this an “extraversion-deficit” belief. That belief may stem from imprints during adolescence as to what “popularity” means. One may reflect back on those outgoing classmates we recall as having the most friends, being the most attractive, and being the best liked. This type of consensus-based popularity may lead quiet individuals to view their lack of extroversion as a deficit.

In their study of boring people, Van Tilburg et al, (2022) found that being a talker does not make you more interesting to others. Rather, those characteristics generally associated with extroverts were also considered attributes of boring people; such as talking too much, being arrogant, self-centered, or self-absorbed. An introverted style is not an interpersonal deficit; in fact, it can be a strength. Lawn and colleagues observe that because introverts tend to be more authentic than extroverts and accepting their introversion as a benefit and not a deficit, this would boost their well-being. There can be a joy to being “boring” that can accompany a more measured, quiet, introverted personality style.

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Bauer, J. J., & Wayment, H. A. (2008). The psychology of the quiet ego. In H. A. Wayment & J. J. Bauer (Eds.), Decade of behavior. Transcending self-interest: Psychological explorations of the quiet ego (pp. 7–19). APA.

Cain S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Broadway Paperbacks.

Lawn, R. B., Slemp, G. R., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2019). Quiet flourishing: The authenticity and well-being of trait introverts living in the West depends on extraversion-deficit beliefs. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20, 2055–2075.

Van Tilburg, W. A . P., Igou, E. R., & Panjwani, M. (2022). Boring people: stereotype characteristics, interpersonal attributions, and social reactions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1-15, published online.

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