“Grammar Police” or “Grammar Nazi”: Call it what you will, but new research suggests that personality plays a big role in how you react to typos and grammatical errors.
By Lola Gayle, Editor-at-large
With the increasing prevalence of social media, we often see posts that contain outright spelling or grammatical errors. When that happens, do you become a badge-wearing member of the grammar police? Or do you simply shrug it off and keep on going? As it turns out, there are some very real differences in how people handle such errors, and it all hinges on their personality.
You no who you aer: the person who thinks its her job too catch every typo or gramatical errur?
According to research conducted by University of Michigan linguistics experts, your personality traits play a key role in how you react to written errors like those in the statement above, whether on social media or in email.
“This is the first study to show that the personality traits of listeners/readers have an effect on the interpretation of language,” said Julie Boland, University of Michigan professor of linguistics and psychology, and the study’s lead author. “In this experiment, we examined the social judgments that readers made about the writers.”
For the study, 83 participants were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and asked to read email responses to an ad for a housemate that either contained no errors or had been altered to include either typos — such as mkae (make) or abuot (about) — or grammar errors, such as to/too, it’s/its or your/you’re. The participants were asked to rate the email writers in terms of perceived intelligence, friendliness and other attributes. They were also asked to complete a Big Five personality assessment and answer demographic and language attitude questions.
“While formal written language changes much more slowly than spoken language, social media has brought increased variability in writing.”
“Our interest in personality is motivated, in part, by the literature indicating the important role of personality traits in the production of language,” the researchers write in their study. For example, previous research used a large sample of Facebook users who had completed a Big Five personality survey. They used that information to develop a mathematical model that successfully predicted personality traits in other Facebook users, based solely on the language used in their Facebook status updates.
At the end of the experiment, participants were asked if they noticed any grammatical errors in the email responses. If they answered “yes,” they indicated how much the errors bothered them.
As expected, participants who reported grammar being important at the beginning of the experiment were more likely to be bothered by grammatical errors at the end, said study co-author Robin Queen, professor and chair of the University of Michigan Department of Linguistics.
In the end, the researchers found that extroverted people are likely to overlook typos and grammatical errors that would cause introverted people to judge the person who makes such errors more negatively. Additionally, less agreeable people are more sensitive to grammatical errors, while more conscientious and less open people are sensitive to typos, the researchers said.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE and is available online.