If you want to hear lots of specific details about a TV show you missed, you’re better off asking a shy person in the office, rather than the loud-mouth talking about it in the break room. That’s because, according to a study by Dutch scientist Camiel Beukeboom, introverts use more descriptive and concrete language than extroverts. Extroverts are far more likely to use abstract language and remember details less accurately.
In the experiment, 40 subjects were asked to describe a set of ambiguous photos and then returned three days later to take a personality test. Participants who were graded as introverts had more mentions of numbers, used more definite articles (i.e. “a”, “the”), and made more distinctions in their speech (i.e. use of words like “but” and “except”). On the other hand, extroverts used more colorful adjectives and described objects/events that were not visible in the photos. When asked, the extroverts admitted to engaging in interpretation.
These results may not be surprising since previous research has shown that introverts behave more cautiously due to fear of punishment. Extroverts tend to be more thrill seekers, and therefore may be more expansive in their word choices. As one article summarized, “introverts tell it like it is; extroverts tell it like it might be.”
It’s an intriguing theory but I wonder if there are flaws in the study. Using only 40 subjects from the same company may not be a representative sample. In addition, the authors did not consider other personality factors that might affect language use. This could be a situation of correlation but not cause.
I’ve read the study a few times but there aren’t enough details for me to decide for myself. The author must be an extrovert.
This blog was originally posted on Manage By Walking Around on March 17, 2013.