Are You Depressed Because You’re Introverted?

Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgA study published in Psychological Science evaluated the link between happiness and personality traits in 973 twins. The authors found that happiness was heritable, and that it showed genetic linkage to certain personality traits. Those who were extroverted, open, agreeable and conscientious were more likely to be happy. Moreover, twins who exhibited similar personality traits had similar levels of happiness in a seemingly genetic pattern.

TwinsThe authors concluded that these results mean happiness could be the result of these specific personality traits, and that depression was brought about by the opposing traits of introversion, disagreeability and neuroticism. While this is a potentially correct conclusion, it seems that the opposite could also be true — depression is an inheritable trait, which leads to certain personality traits that occur in response to this depressed mood.

Many studies have linked certain personality traits to depression. But whether the underlying cause is these traits or depression itself remains to be determined. Alternatively, it may be that both personality traits and depressive tendencies are genetically inherited, but they are inherited together in a predictable pattern, i.e. genes for depressive mood and introversion travel together.

Anyone who has been depressed can vouch for the fact that, when things get bad, you do not want to socialize, you do not feel agreeable or open, and you are not very conscientious about yourself or those around you. So it seems plausible that these traits are as much a product of the depression as they are its underlying cause.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Personality traits are not always inherited, and environmental factors clearly also play a role in the development of personality development. Environmental factors are also important in the development of depression — but we still cannot explain why some individuals become depressed but others do not in response to the same stressful event. Underlying genetic susceptibility to depression and other mood disorders clearly exists, and likely interacts with life events and personal habits in a complex fashion to ultimately determine our personality and our mood. But the idea that our personality traits are genetically determined and are the major determinate of mood disorders is still just a theory.


Weiss, A., Bates, T.C., Luciano, M. (2008). Happiness Is a Personal(ity) Thing: The Genetics of Personality and Well-Being in a Representative Sample. Psychological Science, 19(3), 205-210. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02068.x

  • Isa

    Although I find your article interesting, I cannot completely agree with your thoughts about introverted personalities. Taking my own example, I am rather introverted, but I am nice and open minded towards people surrounding me. Also, I do have a positive vision of the world…frankly, I don’t know if everything can be explained by genetic inheritance…

    We are also shaped by our experiences and environment. Our vision of life has a major influence on the way we behave…I have had some extraverted pupils in the past, who, without showing any sign, suddenly became severely depressed…

    my two cents to the subject.

  • Very interesting post. It was just last week that that the Uiversity Of Navarra in collaboration with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston did a report on smoking and depression. It was in that report that their research claimed that depression was not linked to genetics and was an environmental issue.

    What you really have here is are you depressed because you are introverted or are you introverted because you are depressed. If you go by the report that I mentioned you are introverted because you are depressed.

    My personal feelings are that it is an interesting topic and it needs a lot more research.

    Scott Becker

  • Ian Kemmish

    Surely the very concept of a person who is simultaneously extorveted and conscientious is an oxymoron? Extroverts are always first out of the door to the pub, leaving the customer in the lurch.

  • Charles

    This research’s conclusions about what is depression, and what is happiness and unhappiness appears to be a bias view of extroverts. I suspect that if this study was done by a group of introverts, a different conclusion would be made.


  • I’m introverted, but I’m not depressed. At all.

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  • Diane

    I would like to very strongly disagree here. I am an extreme introvert – but a very social and happy person. But that was not always the case.

    When I went through mild anxiety in university I was counseled to spend more time with friends doing active things. This amplified my problems. Medications for anxiety and depression actually worsen my symptoms. Most treatments for depression are based on assumption of extroversion as normative, which it isn’t.

    When I learned more about introversion and how to set appropriate boundaries for re-energizing and balancing myself my anxiety and depression disappeared. Introverts need alone time to process information and experiences and to recharge.

    I still spend a lot of time with my friends, I just make sure to take down time as well and not feel guilty about it.

    You may want to read “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in and Extrovert World” by Marti Olsen to discover more about the specific differences in brain chemistry and structure between introverts and extroverts.

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Lindsey Kay, MD

Lindsey Kay, MD, is a medical doctor with training in pathology, and an avid writer. During his training, he worked on pre-clinical and clinical trials in a variety of laboratories related to alcohol effects on the brain, cancer diagnosis, and alternative medicine.

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