Proceedings of the 2nd Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.   May 10-11, 2003. Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto Institute of Technology.
Advice giving and personality traits of Japanese university students:
A pilot study

by Mika Shimura    Temple University Japan


This paper explores how personality traits correlate with preferred advice giving styles. An analysis of a survey population of 70 Japanese university students shows that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) scores partially correlate with the students' personality types and styles of giving advice in English. Analysis shows that those students who are classed as introverts according to the MBPI use a more direct style of giving advice in letters than those who are extroverts. In a letter giving three consecutive pieces of advice, students of the two personality types used the same style in the first piece of advice before demonstrating differences in subsequent pieces of advice. It is suggested that the ideal ways to give advice are the same for both types of personality; however, as they continue giving advice these two types begin to use styles which are strongly related to their personalities.

Keywords: advice, personality, extrovert, introvert, MBTI


Studies of pragmatics in English have been conducted on various speech acts, such as apologies, requests, and refusals. Many of the studies focusing on politeness strategies (e.g., Blum-Kulka, House-Edmondson, & Kasper, 1989) have contrasted ways that native and non-native speakers differ. In such studies non-native speakers have been grouped together according to their linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and their individual differences have seldom been considered. Non-native speakers, however, have their own personalities, and do not always act the same as a group. This study therefore explores how one of the well-known personality-type dichotomies, extrovert and introvert, affects written advice patterns in English letters by Japanese EFL students.

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Literature Review

Pragmatics and Speech Acts

Hinkel (1997) notes that studies have been devoted to establishing L2 learners' socio-pragmatic competence and performance over the past decade. Many of these studies compare first- (L1) and second-language (L2) politeness strategies using native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS). Studies on many speech acts such as apologies (e.g., Olshtain, 1983; Trosborg, 1987), requests (e.g., Blum-Kulka, 1983; Faerch and Kasper, 1989; House, 1989), refusals (e.g., Beebe, Takahashi and Uliss-Weltz, 1985), and expressions of gratitude (e.g., Eisenstein and Bodman, 1986, 1993) have been conducted. All of these have treated second-language users as members of homogeneous groups.


There have been many studies on speech acts, as mentioned above. However, few studies have focussed on advice giving. Hinkel (1997) compared English NS with NNS Chinese participants and pointed out that NS used direct or hedged advice (see below) significantly more often than NNS did. Hummert and Mazloff (2001) studied how older American participants responded differently to advice that was delivered politely or impolitely, suggesting that participants perceived advice in five different ways. Matsumura (2001) compared two groups of Japanese students, one studying only in Japan and the other studying a year abroad, to investigate how they developed pragmatic competence in giving advice. He concluded that living and studying in a target speech community was effective for developing such competence. All of these studies, however, have treated participants as members of homogeneous language groups without focusing on differences among participants.

Directness and Indirectness

Brown and Levinson (1987) classify direct speech acts as unmitigated face-threatening acts (FTA). Also, Leech (1983) considers indirectness to be a factor associated with politeness, and more indirect language is, to a certain extent, considered more polite (Blum-Kulka, 1991).
A study by Hinkel (1997) coded levels of directness of advice giving using the frameworks established by Brown and Levinson (1987) and by Channell (1984), Talmy (1988) and Sweetser (1990). The framework that Hinkel (1997) used has three categories, which appear below. This is the framework the researcher adopted in this study.

(1) Direct advice - Responses that contained imperatives or the modal "should" were coded this way.

(2) Hedged advice - Responses that included explicit hedges were coded this way. Hedges included expressions such as "I think", "It seemed that," "I believe," and questions such as "Why don't you . . . ?", as well as impersonals such as "It's important to . . . "), and tag questions.

(3) Indirect advice - Responses that did not fit the previous two categories were coded this way.

Personality Inventory: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was first created by Isabel B. Myers in 1962, and is based on a theory by Jung (Nakazawa, 1997). The MBTI was further developed by her daughter, Katharine C. Briggs. The MBTI has been used mainly in the United States for counseling, career development in schools and personal management in enterprises (Nakazawa, 1997). It is also used in 45 countries in the world and is translated into twenty-four different languages. An official translation into Japanese was completed by Japan-Association Psychological Type (APT) in 2002.1
The MBTI determines preferences in personality tendencies on four dichotomous continua: Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving. Combinations of these preferences lead to sixteen distinct personality types.
There are four forms of the MBTI; form F (166 items), form G (136 items), form G self-scorable (94 items), and form AV (the first 50 items of form G self-scorable). Form F and G both have items for research; however, form G is self-scorable and has no research items. In this study a Japanese translation of Form G was used.
The purpose of this study is to investigate whether Japanese participants who are extroverted perform differently from those who were introverted when writing advice letters in English. Also if a difference is noted, further analysis will be conducted to ascertain how the personality of participants affects writing advice letters. Therefore, the research question for this study is as follows:

Research Question: Do extroverts and introverts perform differently when writing advice in English letters?

Since there is no previous research to refer to, the null hypothesis is shown below.

HØ: There is no difference in the advice styles in letters in English among extroverts and introverts.

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The participants were Japanese university students enrolled in compulsory English classes at a university in the Kanto area. They were first-year and second-year university students in the 2001-2002 academic year and were 18 or 19 years old. Out of an initial sample of 143 participants, the 35 who scored highested in terms of introversion as measured by the MBTI and the 35 who scored highest in terms of extroversion were selected as the participants for this study (n = 70). All participants were non-English literature or language majors in classes taught by the researcher.


The following materials were used in this study:

(1) Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - A Japanese translation by Nakazawa (1997) of Form G of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was used in this study because it is self-scorable and the English version of the MBTI was deemed too difficult for the survey population.

(2) Prompt (a short description of a restaurant) - A short description of a restaurant in English from a writing textbook (Blanchard and Root, 1997) was presented to the participants in class. The description was of a restaurant near a university campus, and the restaurant owner was having a hard time running the place. The description was also accompanied by a picture of a street the restaurant was on, a signboard at the entrance of the restaurant and a menu. A copy of these prompt materials appears in Appendix 1.


Scoring the MBTI - In this study only the extroversion and introversion continua from the MBTI were used. The maximum possible score for extroversion is 26, while for introversion it is 28. Among the 143 participants in this study, the highest score in terms of extroversion was 23 and the highest score in terms of introversion was 22. The 35 participants who scored highest in the extroversion section were grouped as "extroverts" (Scores from 23 to 16). Likewise, the 35 participants who scored highest in the introversion section are grouped as "introverts" (Scores from 22 to 17).

Coding and Scoring of Advice letters - The letters that the participants wrote (see Appendix 1 for examples) were analyzed according to the three categories identified by Hinkel (1997): direct, hedged, and indirect advice. The direct, un-hedged advice was grouped into one response category. The hedged advice and indirect advice were grouped together into another response category. The former catagory was labeled "direct advice"m and the later catogory was labeled "non-direct advice".


This study took the following five steps. Steps (1) and (2) took place on the same day, the first week of the procedure. Steps (3) and (4) took place on the same day of the following week.

(1) Taking the MBTI - The participants were asked to take the MBTI in 40 minutes in class.

(2) Scoring the MBTI - After the participants finished taking the MBTI, they were rated in terms of one of the dichotomies: extraversion or introversion. Using the the MBTI score key, students scored their own answer sheets. They were asked to only score the questions pertaining to extraversion-introversion measurement.

(3) Describing a restaurant - A description of a restaurant was given to each participant (see Appendix 2). The participants spent five minutes reading the description and thinking about what could be done to improve the situation. Then they formed groups of four or five and discussed as a group for five minutes to develop three pieces of advice. After that, a class discussion was conducted for another ten minutes. The participants took notes of the good ideas that other groups presented.

(4) Writing an advice letter to the restaurant owner - After the class discussion, students were given 40 minutes to write an advice letter to the restaurant owner. The participants were asked to give three pieces of advice in the letter.

(5) Analyzing the advice letters - First, the letters were analyzed in terms of the use of direct, hedged, or indirect advice giving strategies. The direct and hedged were grouped into one response category, and the indirect advice was grouped into another response category. These two categories are referred to in this study as the "direct" and "non-direct" groups. A Chi-square procedure was conducted to see if and how the two groups differed.

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This study had a 2 x 2 design, so there was only one degree of freedom. Since the comparison between the Chi-square distribution and the observed χ2 value with 1 df does not offer an accurate analysis, Yates' Correction Factor (Hatch and Lazaraton, 1991, 401-415) was used to analyze the data. Phi was also calculated according to the formula described by Hatch and Lazaraton (1991, 415). The alpha level was set at .10 for this explanatory study. This was because a setting of .01 or .05 might obscure some information that the data contained (McCloskey, 2002; Molloy, 2002).


The observed frequencies for advice types for both the extrovert and introverts groups appears in Table 1.

Table 1: Frequencies of advice types among extrovert and introvert groups

TYPE OF ADVICE: Direct Hedged or
First Advice Extrovert 20 15 35
Introvert 21 14 35
Total 41 29 70
Second Advice Extrovert 22 13 35
Introvert 28 7 35
Total 50 20 70
Third Advice Extrovert 20 15 35
Introvert 28 7 35
Total 48 22 70

Yates' Correction Factor was calculated for each of these data sets, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Yates' Correction Factor for the three pieces of advice.

First Advice       0.000
Second Advice      1.750
Third Advice       3.248*
                   *p< 0.1 (df = 1)    

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Figures 1 and 2 also indicate the results shown in Table 1 and 2.

Figure 1: Direct advice Figure 2: Indirect or hedged advice

Further analysis was conducted to interpret the actual frequencies of cells, which is described in Table 3.

Table 3: Further interpretation of each cell.

Third Advice
Personality Type Advice Type Frequencies
of cells
Extrovert Direct 20 0.36
Hedged/Indirect 15 0.36
Introvert Direct 28 6.30
Hedged/Indirect 7 6.30

The result indicates the cells that have the highest value, Introvert-Direct and Hedged-Indirect (that is, non-direct), depart from the expected frequency, and that is where the differences are the greatest. Also, all the values for the cells are lower than the expected frequencies, 17.5, the value that would obtain if there were no difference between extroverts and introverts.
χ2 of the third piece of advice is significant in Table 2, therefore, Phi for the third piece of advice is calculated. The result is φ = 0.215. This result shows two variables share a 21% overlap, and it is a strong relationship (Hatch and Lazaraton, 1991, 416). That is, the advice-giver's personality type does seem to have an important effect on the kind of advice given.
". . . the advice-giver's personality type does seem to have an important effect on the kind of advice given."

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The result of Yates' Correction Factor indicates that the differences for the first and second pieces of advice are not significant, but the third one is significant (χ2 = 3.248, df = 1, p > .10). Therefore, the null hypothesis was partially rejected, and partially supported. Further analysis shows that the frequencies of the Introvert group show the most significant difference. Therefore, these two results indicated that for the third piece of advice, the Introvert group performs differently from the Extrovert group. Also the Phi value is 0.215, which means there is a strong relation between personality type and type of advice given for the third piece of advice.
To be more precise, the Extrovert and Introvert groups performed the same for the advice that came first in the letter χ2 = 0.00, df = 1, p > .10, n.s.), performed a little differently from the first for the advice that came second (but not statistically significantly: χ2 = 1.750, df = 1, p > .10, n.s.), and performed statistically differently for the advice that came third. (χ2 = 3.248, df = 1, p < .10).
This result as a whole shows that the Extrovert and Introvert groups perform differently writing advice letters. However, the two groups started out performing the same and the differences became more pronounced as they gave advice several times. This could be interpreted as follows. Both of the groups had an ideal style of giving advice in their mind, and first they acted following this ideal style. In comments the participants wrote after taking the MBTI, four of them mentioned that they tried to be extroverts because they believe that being an extrovert is better. Furthermore, a questionnaire conducted by the researcher in 2003 indicates that 55 out of 65 participants consider being extroverted better in Japanese society. These results support the conclusion that the ideal for the majority of the participants is behaving in an extroverted manner.
This may indicate that the participants had an ideal style of giving advice in their minds and the style affected how they started giving advice. As they repeated giving advice, however, they became used to giving advice and started paying less attention to their ideal style of giving advice. This could lead the participants to follow an advice style they felt comfortable with, which is more affected by their personality type than the ideal style. This may indicate that "language is closely bound up with personality at every level," as Littlewood (1982, 202) states. Personality types such as extrovert and introvert exist independently of specific situations (Littlewood, 1982), and it could be assumed that the participants' personalities manifest themselves clearly even when they are asked to behave in a foreign language, English. Further analysis, such as think-aloud protocols and interviews, is needed to support this assumption.
The reason the Introvert group used a more direct type of advice could be interpreted with the types of questions that MBTI contained. The questions from MBTI for measuring extrovert and introvert would support this assumption, since they are mainly asking about behaviors at parties, in private rooms and during private times and so on. The questions ask whether you can easily talk to strangers, you like spending time just by yourself, and so on. Therefore, the questions suppose people who are extroverted are essentially sociable, as Eysenck and Eysenck (1964) characterize extroverts, and they communicate with other people very often and also very smoothly. To communicate smoothly with others, they have to use different types of expressions according to the people they are talking with. That is, they must be more adaptable to the situation. On the other hand, people who are introverted are not very sociable, and they spend less time with others. This may mean they have fewer chances to communicate with others and are less capable of using various types of expressions depending on the people they are communicating with. That is, they may tend to let their personality type manifest itself in their communication more than extroverts do.
The Introvert group's using more Direct advice in advice letters also coincides with studies conducted by Deweaele (1992, 1995, 1998). In Dewaele (1995, 1998), extroverts performed less directly in a formal situation, compared with an informal one, than introverts in oral production. Dewaele (1992) also indicates that extroverts perform more formally than introverts in formal situations. These studies show that extroverts can adjust their communication style to perform in a way appropriate to the situation. Writing an advice letter to a man who is not an acquaintance of the participants can be considered a formal situation, and extroverts adjust themselves writing a letter indirectly while introverts write more directly and explicitly.


". . . the null hypothesis was partially rejected, and partially supported."
The present study has raised the question of whether participants who are extroverts or introverts perform differently writing advice letters. Those who are introverts used advice that was more direct than those who are extroverts in the third piece of advice-giving. However, for the first two pieces of advice there were no significant differences statistically. This indicates that these two personality types performed the same at first, and they started acting according to their personality type as they kept giving advice. It is assumed the participants have preferred ways to give advice regardless of their personalities; however, giving advice more than once in succession leads to their using ways of giving advice more strongly related to their personalities.
The current study was conducted using Chi-squares with 70 participants. However, a larger sample size would be more appropriate to obtain more reliable results for future studies. Also, interviews and think-aloud protocols may reveal the ideal styles of giving advice that extroverted and introverted people have. Furthermore, using various situations for giving advice, such as planning a party or passing an entrance exam for a university, would help obtain more details on acts of advice and effects of personality types.

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1. When the author conducted this study (June, 2002), she could not find any translation of the MBTI in Japanese. However, she found out that later that the Japan Association Psychological Types (APT) is now offering a Japanese version for those who take their special courses on the MBTI.

2. The questionnaire was conducted in June 2003 with other groups of students: 65 first- and second-year students at the same university. A total of 55 of them reported that being extroverted is better in Japanese society, with eight saying that being introverted is better, and two saying a mixture of both was best. This also indicates that not wanting to be seen as introverted is not culturally specific to Americans, as Scherer and Scherer (1981) contended.


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2003 Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index
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