Greg is responsible for setting and executing the scientific agenda for The Predictive Index. He leads all R&D for PI's science-based behavioral, cognitive, and skills assessments.
We debunk the psychology behind this word and how you really should be spelling it
A lot of people ask the question, ‘what is the correct spelling of the word extraversion? Is it with an “A,” as in extraversion, or with an “O,” as in extroversion. We deal with this same thing here at PI because the term shows up as both a primary factor on our PI Behavioral Assessment and throughout many of PI’s training, science, and marketing materials.
So which is it?
The reality is that it is okay to use either spelling. To most people, both versions of the spelling generally mean the same thing and so both are typically considered equally acceptable. But because PI had material that had both spellings of the word, we needed to make a decision on which form we would use. The decision was to use the spelling of “extraversion.”
Why the “A” and not the “O?”
First, from a traditionalist point of view, the term “extraversion” wasn’t a part of psychology until Carl Jung introduced it into the lexicon of the science world.
Since Jung introduced extraversion and introversion, Psychology has come a long way towards understanding, doing extensive research on the constructs. And in most of the cases, psychologists, especially in technical work, have used the "A" spelling. For example, contemporary research and test development around the Five Factor and HEXACO models have consistently used the “A” spelling. In that way, it is generally the psychologically acceptable way of spelling it.
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Second from an etymological perspective, the Online Dictionary of Etymology sheds further light on the “A” by showing that the word “extravert” comes from German Extravert, from extra “outside” + Latin vertere, “to turn.” In Latin, the etymology also shows that “extra” and “intro” mean “out of/outward/outside” and “into/inward/inside.”
If Latin and word etymology aren’t your thing, then you can just look at the practical side of the word. The prefix “extra” is pretty common and often used with other words like extraordinary, extrapolate, extraterrestrial, extravagant, etc. In the entire English dictionary, “Extro” shows up as a prefix less than 10 times, 6 of which are variations on “Extroversion.”
People often wonder where the “O” came from and nobody knows for sure. Some think it is because it sounded better or was more symmetrical with the sound & spelling of introversion. This drives the purists crazy. In an Scientific America Article, “The Difference between ExtrAversion and ExtrOversion” (2015) Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman indicates that it was just an error in a writing by Phyllis Blanchard from a 1918 paper where she not only used an “O” but she also redefined the meaning of the constructs. Regardless of the source of the new spelling, around the 1920s it became a popular way to spell it, and as the evolution of language goes, it became an alternative that became extremely common over time.
In conclusion, we are using “extravert” because it is ultimately the original spelling, how the psychological sciences generally spell it, and quite honestly how many of us who do the technical work at the Predictive Index spell it too. Since we need consistency in the work we do, we had to make a decision for internal materials. That means you may start seeing that “A” creep into our technical documents, workshop materials, and the new version of the PI software over time. But there is no need to worry or change your own approach to spelling it. Extroversion is perfectly acceptable and the most popular way to spell it, so you are in good company.
Check out Greg’s other blog posts, Solving for ‘g’: Getting value from cognitive ability tests; From hire to retire: How assessments stand the test of time; and Roadmap for navigating workplace conflict.