What We’ve Known All Along: Less Agreeable People Care More about Grammar

A recent study confirms that your Facebook friend who’s always pointing out grammatical errors is probably a jerk. Julie E. Boland and Robin Queen, researchers from the University of Michigan, found that personality traits, including levels of agreeability, influence how sensitive a person is to written errors.

After giving 83 participants personality tests, the researchers asked them to read simulated email responses — the responses were attributed to senders with unisex names in order to avoid gender stereotyping — to an ad for a housemate. Boland and Queen used three versions of each email: one that contained grammatical errors (“grammos”) only, one that contained typos only, and one that didn’t contain any errors. Grammos included mistakes like mixing up “their” and “there,” or “your” and “you’re.”

The participants, who were asked to evaluate the email writers on “social and academic criteria” like friendliness and intelligence, had a more negative view of people whose emails contained errors. Overall, those who tested as “more agreeable” on the personality inventory tended to give more positive ratings than less agreeable participants, regardless of whether or not an email contained mistakes. The age, gender, and education of the participants did not appear to impact the responses.

While agreeability did not affect the way participants responded to typos, less agreeable people showed “more sensitivity to grammos” than agreeable ones. Conscientious people, on the other hand, tended to be more bothered by typos. As for introversion and extroversion, extroverts were “likely to overlook written errors that would cause introverted people to judge the person who makes such errors more negatively.”

It’s somewhat surprising that typos and grammatical errors hold this much power given the speed and frequency of written communication that characterizes the digital age. Despite our “sent from my iPhone” disclaimers, it appears we should still be diligent about avoiding written mistakes. Especially if were writing to a conscientious introvert whose not very agreeable. Their the wrst.

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