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WHY "Introvert" AND "Extrovert" ARE Outdated Terms

Why “Introvert” and “Extrovert” Are Outdated Terms

Here at Ame, we’re firm believers that labels — especially when it comes to people — can only go so far. When we were kids, we first became aware of labeling others and reducing entire personalities into a single descriptor. You’d have your introverts, or “the shy kids,” and then you’d have your extroverts, often described as the “boisterous kids.”

But these terms actually can tell us a lot more. Their definition in a nutshell, according to Simply Psychology, reads: “Extroverts are described as preferring to engage with the outside world of objects, sensory perception, and action. Introverts are described as being more focused on the internal world of reflection, are thoughtful and insightful.” So it’s not really surprising then that words like “shy, quiet, and introverted” are all synonymous, while “outgoing, loud, and extroverted” seem to go together.

The Myers-Briggs personality test took the extrovert/introvert dichotomy a step further. This test really broke us down into categories, and had us putting alphabet soup-like descriptions in our dating profiles alongside our astrology signs, like: “I’m an ENFP with a Libra moon, born in the year of the snake.” It was a craze that swept friendship groups obsessed with Cosmo-like questionnaires about which backstreet boy you’d be most likely to marry. As we’ve leaned into our “Introvert” and “Extrovert” identities, these words used to fit us into prescribed boxes have become commonplace.

But as we move into the second half of 2021, we find ourselves asking if these narrow assessments regarding human behaviour and personality are outdated. Are we being stereotyped by an antiquated system? We did a deep dive to find out.

First things first: Where did these terms come from?

Carl Jung is the granddaddy of the terms “extrovert” and “introvert” when he published a scientific journal in 1910 (yes you read that right, 111 years ago!) about personality types. He claimed that these personality traits are present in all of us, but that one dominates the other. He defined them as:
  • Extroversion/ Introversion
  • Sensing/ Intuition
  • Thinking/ Feeling
  • Judging/ Perceiving

The Myers-Briggs test built on top of Jung’s research, and was developed by mother-daughter duo, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. In the 1940s (yup, over 70 years ago!), Isabel went on to design the Meyers-Briggs personality test.

The terms “extrovert” and “introvert” have been a hot topic over the last few years, as there has been a lot of misunderstanding about what they mean. Jung’s original psychology never used terms like “outgoing” or “shy” in his scientific journals. In fact, we as a society have attached these meanings to the terms when the actual origins are all about how people get their energy (extroverts = external, introverts = internal… ah language, you beautiful building block-like thing you!).

Enter: The Ambivert

An ambivert is someone who falls in between the assigned personality types we’ve come to know and accept. They have traits of both an extrovert and introvert, and the idea that they exist has become more popular and accepted since the 1940s. Plot twist: Our friend Carl Jung mentioned this group in his original research, and even admitted that they were the most numerous group. Studies today estimate that two thirds of people are actually on the spectrum of “extrovert” and “introvert.” And the discussion around the rise of the ambivert has led many to wonder if labelling ourselves in any of these categories is a limiting mindset.

Modern life, modern categories

As more and more research is done into the spectrum of personality types (and with ambiverts identified as the largest group), there has been a discussion about expanding the language we use when talking about who we are. Just like every person born in a certain horoscope doesn’t align with every characteristic associated with that starsign, extroverts and introverts may display qualities and personality traits that run the gamut.

There can be a lot of pressure to fit into a box with such rigid labels. It’s human nature to want to connect with people who have similar dispositions or traits — but as we re-define other aspects of our collective social identity (for example, our growing understanding of sexuality and gender spectrums), it’s also totally fine to realize that you don’t fit into one of the predefined categories.

And one of the problems with sticking so closely to these terms (which, again, were created over a hundred years ago), is that who we are can be assumed by our label. For example, the stereotype that introverts are more level-headed, creative, intelligent, and refined (not backed by science, by the way) or that extroverts are super friendly and enthusiastic can be untrue and lead to limiting perspectives. For example, recommendations of different teaching styles based on these labels can be inaccurate and cause misattuned learning environments.

You are more than your label!

At the end of the day, the terms “extrovert” and “introvert” are just one way differences between people are categorized. As science and psychology develop, so too will our understanding of human nature: how we learn, how we thrive, and how we self-identify. The most important part of personal growth and development is not fixating on a label — it’s being yourself in whatever way possible.
Don’t feel held captive to just one definition of who you are!