Overconfidence & Emails

Article Summary #1 – LS 534


AKA Article Summary #1

In 2005 Justin Kruger, Nicholas Epley, Jason Parker & Zhi-Wen Ng published an article which studied the idea that egocentrism impacts the way that people communicate via email.  To demonstrate the relationship between human nature to be overconfident in our abilities to portray the tone we are aiming to, even with the lack of visual cues for the recipient, the researchers completed 5 different studies.  Each study added unique variables, comparing voice communication to email communication, as well as requesting participants to guess how accurate those receiving their messages would interpret them.  The team found, as they had hypothesized, that those speaking or writing the messages were overconfident in their ability to express tone & emotion, regardless or the mode of communication.  However, they were more accurate in their assumption in the voice messages.  Participants listening to voice recording were able to interpret meaning of statements at a much greater rate, than when simply reading sentences from a typed message.  Obviously, the team concluded this was due to the inflection present in the participants voice, a piece of evidence lacking in emails or other written platforms for communication.

The concept being analyzed in the studies, are relevant for anyone who uses an email account.  The stakes being higher among professionals who use this as a primary way to conduct & complete business, misinterpretations at work can be sources of conflict or misunderstanding of what work needs to be completed.  Often in higher education, students attend sessions on best practices in the work place to prepare them for their future careers.  In these classes or seminars, often the topic of email etiquette is discussed.  Students learn the do’s and don’ts of professional emails, often including recommendations from the instructor, that they should not place “emoticons” or similar forms of expression within the message of the email.  These items are often considered to exude a message in themselves that might be interpreted as the sender being less than professional, which is less than ideal when it comes to work communication.

In my personal experience, my initial communication with vendors, colleagues or publishers, I am sure to remain concise & as clear as possible in my explanations, requests or responses.  Although, once I have communicated several times with a person, I begin to be less rigid & often include “smiley faces” or more expressive greetings.  In my opinion, these items may be interpreted by some as unprofessional, but to me they show a sign of personality & add a “human factor”.  I have also had experience with misinterpretation of my messages, or myself needing further clarification, in these situations I have found it most helpful to speak on the phone or in person to clear up any potential misunderstandings.  I think it is beneficial for the workplace & professional relationships, to never jump to conclusions – especially when it comes to email communication.



Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think?. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 89(6), 925-936. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.6.925

3 thoughts on “Overconfidence & Emails

  1. I’m always so reluctant to use emoticons in any form of communication. I’m scared of coming off like a texting schoolgirl. I’m probably too rigid with my emails about things, and overly formal. The telephone is definitely a way to clear things up, but only if the other person actually wants to be at the other end of the line.


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