“Their is cake in the breka room if you’re interested.”
Do you shudder when reading that sentence? Do you long to correct it and don’t even care that your coworkers mock you as the grammar police? You may say it's because you care about language, but if you're fixated on nitpicking, you may be an introvert. Or a jerk.
A recent study finds that people that spot typos and grammar mistakes are more likely to be introverts or jerks (but we knew the latter).
“Overall people felt more negative when they encountered typos than grammatical errors,” says Robin Queen, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Linguistics and an author of the study. In this case grammatical errors include using the wrong your/you’re or there/their/they're, for example.
“People who were more extroverted were less bothered by both types of errors than those who are introverted. People who were lower on the agreeable scale are more bothered by the grammatical ones.”
Queen and her colleague asked 83 native English speakers to respond to an email request for a roommate and judge what kind of roommate the writer would be. Some people read an email riddled with errors while others read one without mistakes. The following paragraph contains both versions.
Hey! My name is Pat and I’m interested in sharing a house with other students who are serious abuot (about) there (their) school work but who also know how to relax and have fun. I like to play tennis and love old school rap. If your (you’re) someone who likes that kind of thing too, maybe we would mkae (make) good housemates.
After reading the email, people took a personality test assessing them for the Big Five personality traits, which include introversion/extroversion, openness to experiences, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Then participants rated how they felt about the email writer after reading them.
Introverts noticed typos more often and thought that made the roommate less desirable. People who were less agreeable spotted grammatical errors more often, making them think less of the potential roommates.
"Keyboarding errors somehow look more sloppy," says Queen.
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Laurie Helgoe, who was not involved in the study, says this reinforces what's known about introverts.
“It is very consistent with the findings that introverts are more attuned to weaker stimuli where extroverts need something much more dramatic to get their attention,” says the chair of the social science division at Davis & Elkins college.
Related: The advantages of being an ambivert
The small stuff
But she stresses that this isn't a bad thing.
“If an introvert says ‘This is distracting me, these 20 misspellings’ they are not necessarily trying to be critical … We are so attuned to these errors we are no longer getting the message.”
Bernardo J. Carducci says introverted brains exhibit high levels of cortical arousal, making it natural that they'd observe the small stuff. They’d also be more likely to spot wrinkled clothing or unkempt hair.
Introverts are “more focused on more subtle cues because they are paying more attention whereas the extraverts are more externally focused, more socially focus,” says Carducci, the director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast.
Looking for the dark side
Most people hate being corrected and Hegloe, an introvert herself, urges other introverts to remember not to be the grammar police.
“It can be as simple as saying 'that’s not my job,'” she says.
While experts understand why introverts notice mistakes, it also makes perfect sense why less agreeable people spot errors.
“These are also the kinds of people who are going to be less socially sensitive and correct people in public,” Carducci says. “[They] are looking for the dark side, for the flaw in character.”