Science Friday

SciFri Extra: The Origin Of The Word 'Introvert'

March 20, 2021

Science Diction from Science Friday is back! Their latest episode is all about a recent buzzword: "Introvert." 

In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those  showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert’s manifesto, she sparked an introvert pride movement. Since then, the war of the ‘verts has only escalated, with self-identified introverts accusing extroverts of being shallow and incessantly chatty party monsters, and extroverts declaring introverts self-absorbed shut-ins who are just jealous because extroverts are actually happy. (A contention that studies support.)

It all feels like a very 21st Century, internet-era drama. But the history of the dubious and divisive introvert-extrovert binary began 100 years ago, when Carl Jung fell out with Sigmund Freud, and tried to make sense of where they’d gone wrong. In the process, Jung coined a couple of new terms, and unleashed an enduring cultural obsession with cramming ourselves into personality boxes.

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Dan McAdams is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. 

Wiebke Bleidorn is a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis.

Kelly Egusa is producer Chris Egusa’s sister, and a proud introvert.


For an introvert’s manifesto, check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

Looking for a personality test backed by science? This one comes closest.

Curious about the 18,000 words in “Trait Names: A Psycho-lexical Study”? Read them here.

Read the 2019 study that suggests that introverted people feel happier when they force themselves to act extroverted. (And you can also check out a different study from the same year that adds a wrinkle to this finding.)

Take a look at a study that analyzes the Big Five personality dimensions as they relate to career success.


This episode was produced by Chris Egusa, Johanna Mayer, and Elah Feder. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our Composer and did sound design for this episode. They wrote all the music, except for the Timbo March by Tim Garland from the Audio Network. Robin Palmer fact checked this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. neither hosts nor alters podcast files. All content © its respective owners.