Are You a Blurter or a Brooder? Take This Test to Find Out

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc

When you meet a new person, one of the first things you’re likely to notice about them is how openly and quickly they express themselves. Some new acquaintances will dizzy you with an array of opinions and observations before you can even tell them your name; others take a long time to open up, and can be difficult to get to know as a result.

In 2001, the social psychologists Dr. William B. Swann Jr. and Peter J. Rentfrow, then of the University of Texas at Austin, attempted to better explain and understand these individual differences. They published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in which they introduced the Brief Loquaciousness and Interpersonal Responsiveness Test, or BLIRT. Defined as “how quickly, frequently, and effusively people respond to their [conversation] partners,” blirtaciousness, they write, could have some important consequences for interpersonal relationships. The BLIRT simply measures an individual’s level of blirtaciousness.

To oversimplify things a bit, humanity can be divided into “blurters” who are high in blirtaciousness, “brooders” who are low in it, and those who sit in the middle. Before we get any deeper, you can take the eight-question BLIRT right here:

How blurtacious are you?

  1. If I have something to say, I don’t hesitate to say it.

  2. It often takes me awhile to figure out how to express myself.

  3. If I disagree with someone, I tend to wait until later to say something.

  4. I always say what’s on my mind.

  5. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say to people.

  6. I never have a problem saying what I think.

  7. When emotions are involved, it’s difficult for me to argue my opinion.

  8. I speak my mind as soon as a thought enters my head.

Swann and Rentfrow see blirtatiousness as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they write, “rapid, effusive responders may win the favor and admiration of their conversation partners.” So if I meet someone and find they are responding excitedly to each and every thing I say, I may take that as a sign that they are paying close attention to me and are responding to my thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, “over time blirtaciousness amplifies people’s qualities, even if those qualities are negative.” When someone is high in blirtaciousness, it accelerates the process by which other people get a sense of who they really are. There are other pluses and minuses as well. Blurters are more likely to express their desires and feelings, which can have benefits, but also more likely, all else being equal, to commit faux pas or to come across the wrong way. Brooders have much more of a filter, since they worry more about how other people will perceive them, which means they’re less likely to slip up, conversationally, but also less likely to make their desires and opinions known.

Whether it’s “better” to be a blurter or a brooder, then, is really context-dependent. In a “competitive” social situation where whoever makes the biggest splash of a first impression wins, a blurter might have the advantage; in a situation where individuals are being evaluated on the basis of being careful, responsible, and not too quick to jump the gun, a brooder might come across as the better choice.

This probably isn’t a characteristic you can change all that much, anyway. Swann and Rentfrow believe that one’s blirtaciousness is at least partially influenced by stable aspects of their personality, with some early social feedback thrown into the mix as well. Since this is stuff you can’t really change, it’s probably better to make peace with your own individual level of blirtaciousness — and figure out how to use it to your advantage — than to fret about changing it.

(Correction: This blog post originally described the hypothesized causes of blirtaciousness in a way that overstated the effects of extraversion and neuroticism, two personality traits. The language has been updated to more accurately describe Swann and Rentfrow’s view.)