Thursday, 1 November 2012

Introverts use more concrete language than extraverts

Your personality is revealed in the way you speak, according to new research. Introverts tend to use more concrete words and are more precise, in contrast to extraverts, whose words are more abstract and vague.

Many previous studies have looked at the links between personality and language, but usually this has been about the content of what different personalities choose to talk about. It's been shown, for example, that extraverts are more likely to talk about family and friends, and to use words like "drinks" and "dancing", which makes intuitive sense given that people matching that personality type are expected to spend more time socialising.

Camiel Beukeboom and his co-workers took a different tack, asking 40 employees (19 women; average age 34 years) at a large company in Amsterdam to describe out loud the same five photos depicting ambiguous social situations. Participants were told that "there are no right or wrong answers" and given as long as they wanted to describe each photo. Their answers were recorded and transcribed for later coding. Three days later, the participants also completed a personality questionnaire.

Participants who scored higher in extraversion tended to describe the photos in terms that were rated by an independent coder as more abstract. For example, they used more "state verbs" (e.g. Jack loves Sue) and adjectives, and they admitted to engaging in more interpretation - describing things that were not directly visible in the pictures. On the other hand, the higher a person scored in introversion, the more concrete and precise their speech tended to be, including more use of articles (i.e. "a", "the"), more mentions of numbers and specific people, and making more distinctions (i.e. use of words like "but" and "except").

The differences make sense in terms of what we know about social behaviour and the introvert-extravert personality dimension, with the introverted linguistic style being more cautious, and the extravert style being more casual and vague.

The researchers said their results have far-reaching implications because we know based on past research that the contrasting speech styles are interpreted differently. For instance, they said behaviour described in abstract terms, in the style of an extravert (e.g. Camiel is unfriendly), is usually attributed to personality, as opposed to the situation, and therefore interpreted as enduring, more likely to occur again, yet harder to verify. By contrast, behaviour described in more concrete terms, in the characteristic style of an introvert (e.g. Camiel yells at Martin), tends to be interpreted as situation-specific, and as more believable.

"Thus an introvert's linguistic style would induce more situational attributions and a higher perception of trustworthiness than an extravert's style," the researchers said.

The findings also complement past research showing how conversations between two introverts usually involve discussing one topic in more depth whereas two extraverts dance around more topics in less detail.

"By talking at different levels of abstraction, extraverts and introverts report information differently," the researchers concluded, "and induce different recipient inferences, memories, and subsequent representations of the information exchanged."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Beukeboom, C., Tanis, M., and Vermeulen, I. (2012). The Language of Extraversion: Extraverted People Talk More Abstractly, Introverts Are More Concrete. Journal of Language and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0261927X12460844

--Further reading--
The links between bloggers' personalities and their use of words.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing about this interesting study. I was reminded of reading that histrionic personality disorder is associated with high extraversion and also with an impressionistic style of talking about things that tends to be vague and flighty. This study sheds some light on this. I wonder if personality disorders associated with introversion are associated with overly concrete speech styles? I'm not sure if this has been reported or not.

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  2. I have just read the paper that this post describes, and the conclusions do not appear to be warranted. The authors only measured extraversion and not other personality factors that might affect someone's use of concrete or abstract language. Most notably, the personality factor openness to experience--the extent to which people are imaginative, artistic, curious, etc.--was not measured in this study. One would certainly expect that people who score low in openness would use more concrete language than those who score high. Most personality research shows a moderately high correlation between extraversion and openness. Thus, the authors may have captured a spurious effect of extraversion on use of language; if they partialled out the effect of openness to experience on use of language, I bet the effect of extraversion would be severely attenuated.

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    1. Anonymous9:35 pm

      Indeed - and they have not included, most importantly, the dimension of S/N - sensing - taking in and relating to information concretely and iNtution - taking in information filtered through imagination - from the MBTI 4 dimensions.

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  3. "Thus an introvert's linguistic style would induce more situational attributions and a higher perception of trustworthiness than an extravert's style," the researchers said.

    Does that mean they are actually more trustworthy, or in some cases at least more psychopathically able to mimic trustworthiness?

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    1. apparently the only real conclusion is tendency toward specificity; whether you regard that as synonymous with trustworthiness is a matter of interpretation

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  4. Alshia2:28 am

    In the first place the measure is biased towards extroverts; ambiguous "social" situations are more easily read abstractly by extroverts than introverts.

    Now if one had tried a test that is more biased towards introverts, the results might reverse.

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  5. Anonymous10:26 pm

    And a sample of 40 employees of a single company is representative how(?). Laughable study!

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  6. Anonymous9:34 am

    People are so thick about introverts, it astounds me.

    Introverts are just better at language, full stop. This is why the best writers are always introverts, including some of those who use perhaps the most abstract ideas. From Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, to Cory Doctorow and Iain M. Banks, all of these people are incredibly abstract-minded introverts.

    So why does this study have the results that it does? Introverts are filled with fear by being around people they don't know, because those people can be obnoxious and draining. It's like being a wolf, and walking through a herd and pretending that you're the same as any other member of the herd, just for your well being and safety.

    So introverts, around herd-people, talk in a very safe, guarded way. They keep their abstracts secret, and locked away, only to be shared on paper, over the Internet, or in books. However, a lot of extroverts find it impossible to write about complex abstract thoughts, they're not prone to sitting down and embracing novelty and invention, engaging in meta-thinking, and so on. They'd rather get drunk and karaoke.

    So both introverts and extroverts are capable of abstract thinking. It's just that extroverts are capable of more common, simple abstracts that they use in day-to-day interactions. These abstracts are more akin to memes, or archetypes, or rules of engagement. The simple building blocks of social interactions, which are never really all that complicated in the first place.

    Introverts want more complicated abstracts, which they never find amongst extroverts, so they find the barrage of memetic thinking to be exhausting. They'd rather get home and have a long discussion about those abstracts with another introvert they care about, or with their computer. An introvert, for example, is always going to have a more well-rounded understanding of ethics, whereas an extrovert won't actually know what the difference between ethics and morality is.

    Here's a side note for those who don't know, and it will be many of you: Morality is the code of society adopted by the herd, and is tied into law and the contemporary religious zeitgeist of the status quo. Ethics on the other hand are a very contextual and subjective understanding of suffering and the desire for the avoidance of it. The laws of ethics are much more complicated and interwoven, bound in deep thought, whereas morality is a simple set of codes for societal behaviour. Extroverts will commonly be moral, introverts will commonly be ethical.

    Even in this post, where I am currently feeling very guarded given the company, I've shown the capability for complex abstractions. Just because you cannot always observe something, it doesn't mean that this is impossible. The assumption that this is the case has lead to some of the worst examples of 'quack science' we've ever seen.

    Let's run the test. Let's run the exact test again. Okay, the results are the same, we'll not bother running any other kinds of tests. We have our 'evidence.'

    That's exactly what's going on, here. You're putting introverts in an extroverted environment and expecting them to share their complicated abstracts with you without actually providing any incentive for them to do so. They're not even sure you'd understand the complex kinds of abstracts that run riot through their minds every day as creative people, so they tend to be very diplomatic.

    What you're seeing here is introverts being diplomatic. But I have no desire for that, myself. Honestly, I'm tired of sugar-coating things for all the herd-like people out there who'd never even consider what I have to say, anyway. And see? That's the problem.

    "If I don't think you're going to understand what I have to say, I'm going to try and explain things in very simple, very easy to understand ways."

    That's what the introverts are doing.

    (Continued in next post.)

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  7. Anonymous9:34 am

    (Continued from last post.)

    But to hear introverts talk amongst themselves is the most glorious thing ever, if you have the mind for it. Introverts are where novelty and invention come from, whereas extroverts tend to be very violently opposed to it and favour familiarity and things they know, because they feel that makes them more comfortable. Being with the crowd, the herd, being surrounded by it is like a comfort blanket for them.

    A lot of it has to do with brain chemistry, but I won't get into that. I'm not going to type a thesis on that topic, here. You can go and look it up if you're driven to do so, or don't. Your prerogative.

    The thing is though is, to put it simply, extroverts are tied heavily into the reward systems of the brain. Dopamine. They like the good feels of dopamine and they get addicted to it, they need it. They form habits where they can feel good about themselves, they go to social gatherings where they can feel good about themselves. It's all to soak their brains in dopamine. This is also why marketing conditioning and brands work so well on extroverts but not on introverts, the herd buying and talking about the latest brand is very reaffirming, and it can bring about dopamine releases. The introverts don't talk about brands, generally they have loftier topics.

    And that's the difference. You're not seeing complicated abstracts from extroverts, you're seeing memetic thinking -- simple abstracts, the kind they use to interact with each other. Get a thousand extroverts together and you'd see almost the same simple abstracts across all of them. The 'drinks,' 'dancing,' and 'dating' meme exists for a reason. And it is a meme. Memes aren't complicated abstracts.

    A complicated abstract? Self awareness, that leads to meta-thinking, thinking about thinking, understand how we think, existentialism, free will and how brain chemistry interacts with it and changes us. An introvert who's never met any other introverts may become embroiled in solipsism because they've met not another individual who's capable of complex abstract thinking.

    The long and short of it is: Just because introverts don't share their complex abstracts with you, that doesn't mean they don't have them. That's arrogance, that's quack science, and it's plain dumb. If we believed that that was the case we'd never actually have discovered quantum science, quantum science exists by observing the changes caused by something that might exist, because that something is changed by direct observation. The thing is is that by observing something, even as passively as possible, we're changing the environment.

    Another abstract for you? Introverts are like quantum physics.

    Introverts are abstract in their own minds and with other introverts, but the moment an introvert is observed by an extrovert, they change. This is why introverts seem depressed and under-stimulated to an extrovert, because the presence of extroverted observation is changing the introvert. The only way to truly examine an introvert would be to use other introverts in an introverted setting.

    So, no, introverted thought and language isn't as precise as you think. It can be very abstract. It's just that... oh no, we're being observed by an extrovert, we'd better switch to precise mode so that they can even begin to understand us!

    That's what's happening there. And it's a response in all introverts, even when it happens subconsciously. It's a defence mechanism. You're observing a comfortable extrovert and an uncomfortable introvert's defence mechanisms. And that the people running this study didn't realise that makes me question their credentials.

    But then, they were probably extroverts, so they didn't know better. Honestly, extroverts are hardly the most observant people in the world.

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