High extraversion is correlated with high subjective well-being. Recent research suggests that there might be an intermediating variable between the two. The current study investigated whether empathy is a possible candidate. In order to explore the correlation between empathy and extraversion, 53 participants, consulted through social media filled out two questionnaires measuring empathy and extraversion. The results showed a weak positive Pearson’s correlation, suggesting a link between the variables. Empathy might thus be an intermediating variable between extraversion and subjective well-being.
What makes us happy? Why are some people just naturally happier than others? And even more important, how can we define happiness? Those questions have always been occupying the human mind. Since happiness is a feeling individually defined by humans, meaning it can embody many different aspects, it is hard to define and even more difficult to measure. In scientific measuring attempts, the term happiness is often described as “subjective well-being” (SWB). The broad consensus defines three major components of subjective well-being namely life satisfaction, negative affect, and positive affect (Emmons, 1986). The Personality trait extraversion is positively correlated with measures of SWB (Harris, English, Harms, Gross, & Jackson, 2017; Costa & McCrae, 1980), especially with positive affect, and is therefore a predictor of SWB (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998). Extraversion belongs to the “big five” personality traits, which include: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion and neuroticism and is defined as “A term […] to describe individuals who are outward-directed and sociable in their behaviour. In [Eysenck’s] two-factor model of personality, […] it concluded […] second order factors such as risk taking, impulsiveness, and sociability […]” (Stratton & Hayes,1993, p.69). Additional evidence for the relationship between extraversion and SWB comes from a study (Harris, English, Harms, Gross & Jackson, 2017), that shows a strong correlation between the two variables. What is interesting about this study, is that the researchers expected a mediating factor that relates the two, whereas people would initially assume a simple and direct relationship. In the same study, they were not able to find the core mechanism that intermediates extraversion and SWB. However, the results revealed that the ability to increase the quality (not the quantity) of social experiences can be one factor that contributes to high SWB
Since previous research failed to define the intermediating mechanism between extraversion and SWB while continuously verifying a link exists, the current study will further investigate a possible social factor that might intermediate the established correlation. When considering Harris results, the linking factor must improve the quality of social interaction (Harris et al., 2017), in this case, empathy will most likely fulfill this criterion. Strengthening that assumption, research suggests that empathy and extraversion seem to occur side by side (Claxton-Oldfield & Banzen, 2010). That study measured personality characteristics of female hospice palliative care volunteers and the results showed that care volunteers scored high in agreeableness and extraversion, and significantly higher on empathy measures than the female norm. Still, this does not prove a correlation. A subsequent study (Wakabayashi & Kawashima, 2015) that measured the relationship between the Empathy Quotient and major personality traits found a moderate correlation (r=.32) between empathy and extraversion. Even more important, a longitudinal study (Grühn, Rebucal, Diehl, Lumley, & Labouvie-Vief, 2008) discovered a positive correlation of empathy with positive well-being (SWB), which includes life satisfaction. Therefore, empathy is associated with extroversion as well as SWB.
Another perspective from which one can study subjective well-being is the biological side, meaning underlying neuronal mechanisms. Looking at SWB in general, a study (Kong, Hu, Xue, Song & Lui, 2015) suggests that the mid-dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (mid-DLPFC), is majorly involved in social well-being alongside with its involvements in social reasoning, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. For simplicity, one can argue that mid-DLPFC is involved in social functioning. In the same study, social well-being was defined as “the appraisal of one's circumstance and functioning in society, which is crucial for individuals' mental and physical health”, which allows the current study to consider it an important component of SWB. The results of the previous study negatively correlated social well-being (leading to SWB) with gray matter volume in the left mid- DLPFC. Thus, the current study considered the DLPFC to be involved with SWB. Also, Kong et al. (2015) suggested that extraversion is a mediator between structure of the DLPFC and social well-being, meaning that the structure of the former is associated with degree of extraversion, which is a determining factor for SWB. Therefore, the DLPFC also shows links to extraversion. It has additionally been shown to be involved in cognitive empathy (Rêgo et al., 2015), which might be due to its involvement in emotion regulation mechanisms. Another study (Jenkins et al., 2014) that investigated the effects of lesions in different parts of the brain on emotional and social behavior, revealed that patients with lesions in the DLPFC performed worse on empathy measures. To summarize, the DLPFC is associated with empathy and social well-being, mediated by the personality trait of extraversion. The current study considered social well-being as a predictor for SWB. In this way, structure of the DLPC might be associated with the extent of extraversion displayed by individuals, determining scores on SWB.