The Difference between ExtrAversion and ExtrOversion

The Difference between ExtrAversion and ExtrOversion

The Difference between ExtrAversion and ExtrOversion

All over the internet, I see the spelling "ExtrOversion"— with a big fat O. The other day I wrote an article and used the spelling "ExtrAversion", with a juicy A, and was told that I spelled the term incorrectly. So which is actually correct? The O or A?

Jung may be rolling in his grave.

All over the Internet, on Facebook comments, and popular articles, I see the spelling "ExtrOversion"—with a big fat O. The other day I wrote an article and used the spelling "ExtrAversion", with a juicy A, and was told that I spelled the term incorrectly. So which is actually correct? The O or A?

Folklore has it that when Carl Jung was once asked which was the correct spelling—ExtrAvert or ExtrOvert—Jung's secretary wrote back something like, "Dr. Jung says it's ExtrAverted, because ExtrOverted is just bad latin."

One of the first times Carl Jung introduced the term is in 1917, in his book "Die Psychologie der Unbewussten Prozesse", he spelled it "ExtrAvert". Exhibit A (ha ha):

Since I have no idea how to translate this, I will refer to another time he used the phrase, in 1921, in his classic text "Psychological Types":

"Extraversion is characterized by interest in the external object, responsiveness, and a ready acceptance of external happenings, a desire to influence and be influenced by events, a need to join in…the capacity to endure bustle and noise of every kind, and actually find them enjoyable, constant attention to the surrounding world, the cultivation of friends and acquaintances… The psychic life of this type of person is enacted, as it were, outside himself, in the environment."

Keep in mind this is a translation, but even if you consult the original text, you can clearly see "extravertierte" is all throughout.

So why do so many people spell it ExtrOversion today? Well, I did some investigative reporting and tracked down the precise source of this change. 

Thanks to Phyllis Blanchard, ExtrOversion is the prominent spelling of the word in the United States today. 

In her 1918 paper, "A Psycho-Analytic Study of August Comte", she writes:

"In order to understand the marked contract between Comte's mental attitude during his early years and that of his later life, we must keep in mind Jung's hypothesis of the two psychological types, the introvert and extrovert, -- the thinking type and the feeling type."

Not only did she change the spelling of the word, but she also changed the definition!

This is a great example of how the dictionary spelling of words can evolve over time based on usage. Soon after, the dictionary adopted Blanchard's spelling. According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the "extro" form started appearing in 1918. Today, ExtrOvert is the most common spelling of the term in the United States. 

Why did Blanchard change the spelling? I have no idea for sure; I can't ask her. But I'm pretty sure it was just an innocent mistake. What I think probably happened is that she was translating Jung and used the "extro" form to imitate the "intro" form for symmetry.

But as any Latin scholar can tell you, ExtrAversion is much more in line with what Jung meant by the term. Extra means "outside" in Latin, and Intro means "inside". Jung beleived IntrOverts turn inward, whereas ExtrAverts turn outward. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "The original spelling 'Extravert' is now rare in general use but is found in technical use in psychology." That's correct. If you look at scientific journal articles, virtually every paper uses the spelling ExtrAvert.

This is interesting, because modern day psychologists take a more multidimensional view of personality.* Jung was a pretty sharp guy, but he would have been the first to admit that he was an armchair psychologist. We now know that there are five fundamental dimensions of personality (extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and intellect/imagination), each one on a continuum. This conclusion came as a result of going out and asking people to describe their own personal experiences, to ask people to describe themselves or others, and then using statistical analysis to organize this wealth of information into a personality taxonomy. Instead of speaking of types, at the very least it's more accurate to speak of low, medium, and high levels of each dimension of personality. 

Under this framework, extraversion is defined as being outgoing, sociable, expressive, and assertive. Introversion is defined as the opposite of extraversion (reserved, quiet).* One of the major discoveries of modern personality research is that the drive for cognitive exploration (e.g., complex thinking, imagination) is a separate dimension of personality than extraversion. People can have multiple drives (e.g., a social drive and a drive for imagination), and different personality traits can interact in fascinating nuanced ways within individuals.

This is not to say that Jung wasn't a genius. Jung was THE BOMB DIGGIDITY (which, by the way, I wish was an official term in the Oxford dictionary).** But I'm sure even Jung would have been pleased to see how far we've come since his time. Don't get me wrong, we still have a LONG way to go, but we know so much more about the fundamental personality dimensions that exist in the general population, and how they can interact with each other and with the environment/specific situations/triggers to create a personalized individual personality structure.

Here's the great irony. I noticed that most of the people on the internet who use the term ExtrOvert, with an O, and correct those who use an A, are actually big fans of Jung's definition, and personally define ExtrAversion and IntrOversion in strictly Jungian terms. If they love Jung so much (which I agree they should because Jung was amaaaaazing), why don't they honor him by using the spelling he actually used? Ironically, it's the personality scientists, who have a somewhat different usage of the term, who are the ones honoring Jung by staying true to his original spelling.

Why does this matter? Trust me, I'm not usually this pedantic. But I think there's something deeper going on here. There is becoming this rift between a lot of people (not all, but a lot) who spell it ExtrOvert and the scientists who spell it ExtrAvert who are trying to help create new knowledge on the topic. This is such an unnecessary rift! 

Maybe a solution is to just have both spellings in existence, but define the terms differently. ExtrOversion can specifically refer to Jung's usage of the term (even though he didn't spell it that way!), and ExtrAversion can specifically refer to the particular source of human variation that has been discovered through research spanning over 40 years worth of data on how people differ from one another in the general population.

But this isn't my preferred solution, because it still sets up an unnecssary rift. How about instead we bury ExtrOversion once and for all, and all embrace the same spelling to honor Jung. Maybe it's my high agreeableness speaking, but why can't we all be friends? Why can't we all keep an open mind and share with each other our discoveries? I do believe it's helpful for scientists to listen to the experiences of individuals, but I also think it could be helpful for individuals to listen to the latest science. This could be so win-win.

I'm sure Jung would have liked that suggestion.

(C) 2015 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved

* For many people who identify as introverts, this definition isn't satisfactory. They see introversion as encompassing much more than just being quiet/reserved. Perhaps a better solution is to take Jonathan Cheek's suggestion and refer to different types of introverts (anxious, social, restrained, thinking). Or you can define introversion as comprising two main aspects: stimulation and deliberation, which is the approach I took with the Quiet Revolution team (take test here).

** I should note that Bomb Diggity refers to Jung's intellectual contributions. I am not condoing anything about his personal life, that's for sure!

Article originally appeared at Scientific American

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