Monday, February 20, 2006

Know What I Mean?

Research conducted recently at Cornell University worked with 60 pairs of students to test how accurately sarcastic intention could be discerned in email (electronic) communications. Each person selected 10 statements from a list of 20 where no list was the same. Some statements listed were sarcastic and some were not. Working in pairs from separate rooms, one student typed the statements into an email message and the other recorded the message, intoning the meaning as they understood it implied, and then the roles were reversed until all the statements had been exchanged. In addition, each person guessed both whether or not she had accurately understood the message sent and the receiver would be accurate in her understanding.

In all cases sender and receiver – both in writing and speaking – expressed a nearly 80% confidence that the receiver would accurately assign meaning in recognizing the intended presence of sarcasm or its absence. In fact, while reports of meaning were nearly 75% accurate for messages received as spoken, accuracy for messages received as written fell barely above 50% – little more than a coin toss.

Researcher Justin Kruger and his team argue that their findings demonstrate a general overconfidence of writers who believe themselves to have accurately communicated their intended meaning. Combine this mistaken confidence with an equally mistaken certainty from readers that they, too, have rightly received the message, and you have a potential for significant misunderstanding that could play out in varying degrees of loss.

Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker,J., and Ng, Z. (2005). “Egocentrism Over Email: Can We Communicate As Well As We Think?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 89(6), 925-936.

(via Cognitive Daily)


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2 comments:

Junebugg said...

This proves that grammar and punctuation usage do count. Now if I could just learn to spell...

Winston said...

This gives me pause... I frequently attempt to use tongue-in-cheek humor, light sarcasm, gross over-statement and under-statement, etc. Could it be that readers don't get it and take me seriously? Perhaps I should clean up my act and just write straight and boring. Or, maybe not...