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30 F United States of America
speaks English and Haitian Creole French
Last login: 22 November 2006
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In effect, e-mail cannot adequately convey emotion. A recent study by
Profs. Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the
University of Chicago focused on how well sarcasm is detected in
electronic messages. Their conclusion: Not only do e-mail senders
overestimate their ability to communicate feelings, but e-mail
recipients also overestimate their ability to correctly decode those

One reason for this, the business-school professors say, is that
people are egocentric. They assume others experience stimuli the same
way they do. Also, e-mail lacks body language, tone of voice, and
other cues - making it difficult to interpret emotion.

"A typical e-mail has this feature of seeming like face-to-face
communication," Professor Epley says. "It's informal and it's rapid,
so you assume you're getting the same paralinguistic cues you get from
spoken communication."

To avoid miscommunication, e-mailers need to look at what they write
from the recipient's perspective, Epley says. One strategy: Read it
aloud in the opposite way you intend, whether serious or sarcastic. If
it makes sense either way, revise. Or, don't rely so heavily on
e-mail. Because e-mails can be ambiguous, "criticism, subtle
intentions, emotions are better carried over the phone," he says.

E-mail's ambiguity has special implications for minorities and women,
because it tends to feed the preconceptions of a recipient. "You sign
your e-mail with a name that people can use to make inferences about
your ethnicity," says Epley. A misspelling in a black colleague's
e-mail may be seen as ignorance, whereas a similar error by a white
colleague might be excused as a typo.


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