Monday, February 20, 2006

Egocentric E-mail and You

We've all gotten an e-mail and questioned the tone, were they being funny or angry or what? Well, apparently confusion regarding e-mail is not uncommon.

According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I've only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they've correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.

The researchers took 30 pairs of undergraduate students and gave each one a list of 20 statements about topics like campus food or the weather. Assuming either a serious or sarcastic tone, one member of each pair e-mailed the statements to his or her partner. The partners then guessed the intended tone and indicated how confident they were in their answers.

"People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they 'hear' the tone they intend in their head as they write," Epley explains.

At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. Despite this, the research subjects thought they accurately interpreted the messages nine out of 10 times.

The reason for this is egocentrism, or the difficulty some people have detaching themselves from their own perspective, says Epley. In other words, people aren't that good at imagining how a message might be understood from another person's perspective.


: Joseph j7uy5 said...

Intersting. I wonder how much these results could be extrapolated to other kinds of communication? Presumably, face-to-face communication is interpreted more accurately, but I would bet that the error rate there would be surprisingly high.

JHearne said...

I'm sure this is true.