We call them all sorts of names: grammar nazis, pedants, grammar police, and sometimes prescriptivists. And now science says they are more than just that; they are jerks. A recent study has revealed that people who feel the urge to point out people’s grammatical mistakes online have less agreeable personalities than those who ignore them.
According to a recent paper published in PLOS One in 2016, there is a strong correlation between a person’s personality traits and how they respond to typos and grammatical errors. This could teach a lot about how people communicate online. Lead author, Julia Boland, from the University of Michigan, argues that personality decides how you interpret language itself. Julia further writes that “this is the first study to show that the personality traits of listeners/readers have an effect on the interpretation of language,” adding that “in this experiment, we examined the social judgments that readers made about the writers.”
The experiment was based on 83 participants who were presented with email responses to an ad for a housemate. The email responses were edited and controlled grammatical mistakes and typos were added (‘teh‘ instead of ‘the‘, to instead of too, it’s instead of ‘its’, etc.). This was done on the purpose of finding out what readers observed, analyzed and believed.
The 83 participants were then asked to judge the person who had written the email based on their perceived intelligence and friendliness and how applicable and suitable the person was as a housemate. The participants were also asked at the end of the experiment whether they spotted any grammatical mistakes or typos, and, if so, how much it had bothered them.
The researchers then subjected the participants to a Big Five Personality Assessment which rated their openness, agreeableness, and how extroverted/introverted they were while communicating online. They were also asked about their age, address, location, and how they perceived language; is it a tool for communication or something more.
Overall, everyone rated the fictional housemate applicants with typos and grammatical mistakes in their emails as worse than those with perfect spelling and grammar. But there were certain personality types that judged the applicants who made the typos and grammatical errors more harshly than anything else.
Extroverts didn’t bother with the typos and let them slide, and wanted to go deeper than those superficial mistakes. Whereas introverts were more likely to judge the applicants based on them.
Furthermore, those who identified as more conscientious but less open were also more sensitive to typos, while those with less agreeable personalities got offended by them. The researchers wrote that “perhaps because less agreeable people are less tolerant of deviations from convention.”
These findings are suggestive but they cannot be generalizable, especially with the very small sample size. More research is definitely needed to connect more dots. But the thing is, typos and grammatical mistakes are human nature. Don’t point them out to other people or judge their intelligence based on them. Because that might very well make you a jerk.