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Language and communication, Personality and self

Introverts use more concrete language than extraverts

The differences make sense in terms of what we know about social behaviour and the introvert-extravert personality dimension.

01 November 2012

By Christian Jarrett

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."

Further reading

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