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Researchers have confirmed what many people have long suspected to be the case; those individuals who continually point out the grammatical errors of other people online are ‘less agreeable’ than those who do not.
The lead researcher on the study, Julie Boland of the University of Michigan, claimed that this study was the first of its kind. It was intended to show that the personality traits of individuals have a huge effect on the way that they react to language and the manner in which they make social judgments about grammatical errors.
The team gathered together eighty-three participants and had them read email responses to an advertisement for a new housemate. Some of the responses contained no grammatical errors, and others contained typos and grammatical mistakes. The participants were asked to judge the writers of the responses based on their intelligence and friendliness in order to determine which housemate would be best. After they had submitted these responses, they were asked whether they had spotted any mistakes in grammar and spelling in the emails and were asked how much these mistakes bothered them.
In the second section of the experiment, the researchers had the participants take a Big Five personality assessment which rates individuals on various scales. The test questions the openness, agreeableness, extroversion/introversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness of the individuals. In addition to the test, the participants were also given a supplementary questionnaire about their age, socio-economic background and their attitude towards language.
The researchers analyzed the data and found that all of the participants had rated the potential housemates who had made errors in their language lower than those who had not made mistakes. However, they found that there were certain kinds of people who judged those who had made grammatical errors much more harshly than the rest of the participants. They found that introverts were far more negatively affected by the grammatical errors than those with a more extroverted personality. They also found that those with less agreeable personalities tended to become more aggravated by mistakes. The researchers suggested that this might be because those with less agreeable personalities tend to be more upset by deviations from convention.
The experiment did not use a particularly large sample scale, and the variations in personality type and their reaction to grammatical errors was fairly subtle which means that further research will be needed to determine that there is a definitive link. However, it is believed that the researchers are on the right track as the reaction towards grammatical and spelling mistakes was better determined by personality type than age or educational background.
The research has been published in PLOS One.