A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

*Spoken in a calm thoughtful voice*

Here’s an interesting study:

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.

“That’s how flame wars get started,” says psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who conducted the research with Justin Kruger of New York University. “People in our study were convinced they’ve accurately understood the tone of an e-mail message when in fact their odds are no better than chance,” says Epley.

“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.

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.

So when you guys read my blog, you’re getting my mood wrong 50% of the time. Hmm…

[Read whole artcle on Wired News, via Serdal]


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  1. She

    That’s exactly what I was thinking (about my own blog though, obviously!)! I’ve learned the hard way that people can easily misinterpret what I’ve written, and if it’s an especially sensitive topic, they often read it the way they want to read it, completely misunderstanding my original intentions, and then going ballistic. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope when I write, without a safety net.

  2. sooo true.You can never be sure if you got the exact message behing an e-mail or if you relied your thoughts exactly in an email.I believe so.One spoken word and change the whole meaning of things.

  3. kinzi

    I’m a firm follower of ‘believing the best’ and reading things from others with the kind of love that “bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.” So it makes a Pollyanna, but I don’t take offense easily either.

    For me…but for others, I digress. Like whoever Anon was buggin you about being a “Shmeisani” girl”. Yeesh. Get a life.

  4. المجروح

    So all the emails were really nothing but friendship messages? :(

    No! Not on Valentine’s Day :(

  5. That explains a lot especially when we read stuff so late at night or when get mixed up …

    so we keep it simple :)

  6. The original paper doesn’t actually say 50/50, instead, it says the chance of picking correctly the intent of irony vs sincerity was no better then random chance. I find this a much more accurate way to say it than a 50/50 chance.

    Choosing between irony vs sincerity is one of the toughest problems in plain text. One thing that makes it tough is that by convention we typically use “quotes” to show something is ironic. Yet this conflicts with using quotes for quotes, quotes for emphasis, and quotes for calling attention to a phrase — all common uses of quotes in text. No wonder we can’t interpret irony accurately.

    There are also a number of other psychological and sociological causes for the cycle of flames, including over-interpretation of emotional content, emotional contagion, and lowered empathy during higher intensity emotions. I’ve written more about these in my blog at Flames: Emotional Amplification of Text.

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