Scientists Conclude: Grammar Nazis Are Jerks

Scientists Conclude: Grammar Nazis Are Jerks

We all have those people in our digital lives that are quick to pop up like a virtual 8th grade English teacher and correct any grammatical error that we might make in our online posts. As a writer, I can tell you that I have hundreds. No matter what the content of the post may be or how eloquently it might be expressed, if a comma is out of place I can rest assured that at least a dozen people will wiggle out of the woodworks of the internet and make assessments of my overall intelligence and personal character based on that single comma. Granted, nothing drives me crazier than certain grammatical errors, but very rarely do I ever go out of my way to point out those errors. I am fully aware that there is a difference between a post on Facebook and a doctoral dissertation. That being said, researchers at the University of Michigan have completed a recent study that proves what we have all thought:

People who constantly point out grammatical errors have “less agreeable” personalities.

The Test

Lead researcher Julie Boland took 83 participants and had them email responses looking for a roommate. Some of those responses had no grammatical errors while others had minor grammatical errors mixed in. The participants were then asked to judge the sender of the email’s perceived intelligence, friendliness, and how good of a roommate they seemed like they would be.

They were also asked if they even noticed any grammatical errors in the emails. Once those results were tallied, the participants then took a Big Five Personality Assessment, which rates things like openness, agreeability, and neuroticism. Combined with basics stats like age, gender, background, and attitude towards language – the researchers had their findings.

The Results

All of the participants rated the emails with grammatical errors lower than the ones that didn’t have them. But, certain participants were MUCH harsher about their ratings than others. What was really interesting was the fact that the results coincided with the results of the Big Five assessment. For instance, extroverts were more likely to completely ignore the typos, while introverts judged them very harshly. People who were conscientious but less open were sensitive to typos, but people who had less agreeable personality traits got more upset about grammatical errors and judged more harshly.

The Confirmation

According to Boland, “This is the first study to show that the personality traits of listeners/readers have an effect on the interpretation of language. In this experiment, we examined the social judgments that readers made about the writers.” The research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, is on-going. Still, the initial results confirm what we have always kind of suspected: people who are obsessed with pointing out grammatical errors are jerks.

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