When I was a single lass and trolling OkCupid, many moons ago (I hesitate to say how many, but suffice it to say Tinder wasn’t yet a popular dating service), I struggled to fill out much of my profile in a manner that captured my personality in a flattering yet discerning way. Except for one section: the “message-me-if” box at the bottom of the profile, a blank I knew exactly how to fill. “Message me if … you have a solid grasp of grammar,” I posted. No smiley face to ease the harshness. I meant what I said.
A recent study offers one possible explanation as to why some uptight broads like myself just can’t look past a misplaced comma or a phrase misspelled “look passed” instead of “look past.” In a study published March 9 in PLOS ONE, “If You’re House Is Still Available, Send Me an Email: Personality Influences Reactions to Written Errors in Email Messages,” University of Michigan researchers Julie E. Boland and Robin Queen found that personality traits of participants altered both how and to what extent the presence of typos and grammar errors in a written piece affected the readers’ perceptions of the writer.
Participants in the study read emails from theoretical potential housemates containing different types and numbers of writing errors, then responded to questionnaires evaluating the fictional candidates on characteristics like friendliness and trustworthiness. The study suggested that while traits like the age or education of the reader did not make them more or less likely to react harshly to blatant writing errors, characteristics like introversion and lack of openness or agreeability could. Generally, higher extraversion, openness and agreeability, but lower conscientiousness, predisposed participants to remain favorable to their hypothetical future roommates despite grammar and typing errors.
If you’re an introvert, or someone who thinks of themselves as more of a perfectionist, this seems like a great excuse to forever and always write people off the minute they write “loose” when they mean “lose.”
Just take it from a pro.
Though on OkCupid, disclosing my disagreeability about grammar errors was a risky strategy -- plenty of young swains shot me a DM just to jocularly include as many flirtatious typos and grammar errors as possible in defiance of my request -- it’s simply a preference I haven’t been able to get around. To this day, I cringe at “yea” instead of “yeah,” “they’re” instead of “their,” and “for all intensive purposes.” My fiancé has demonstrated comfort with the fundamentals of grammar and spelling since his first text to me over three years ago, or it might have been the last. My friends, though I’ve never consciously weeded out less grammatically adept pals, all send me punctiliously spelled and apostrophed emails.
It’s uncomfortable, poring through the study, to see that this knee-jerk reaction may be associated with low agreeability and openness, in addition to conscientiousness and introversion. Maybe, if I were still on OkCupid, I’d change my “message me if” requirement to something non-grammar-related. Or maybe it's just time for us grammar police to acknowledge that we're not just nerdy and dutiful: We might just be a little bit disagreeable and even close-minded.
Hey, no one's perfect.