Why we are more likely to say something we regret in writing than we would face to face
The news that your boss can read private messages sent at work, as the European Court of Human Rights ruled last week, should make you think twice about gossiping with your colleagues over GChat. But this may prove tricky, as it’s neuroscientifically more difficult to be careful about what we write than to watch what we say.
In a private conversation, all of our senses are alert to signs of a possible eavesdropper. So you may find yourself whispering, looking over your shoulder and thinking more carefully about your choice of words. Also, our empathy centres are activated by speaking directly to someone, which inhibits us further as we are better able to imagine our boss’s disdain and disgust if they were to overhear what is being said about them.
When writing, however, all of this sensory information is absent. The lack of any immediate sense of someone listening in makes it much more likely that we’ll type, tweet or text something we later regret.
So, my guess is that this won’t make a difference to what people write at work - which is perhaps why it feels like such an intrusion.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London
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