D: Hey Yaël, did you see that annoying email sent to everyone in the office? Someone claimed they needed survey participants. Yeah, right! It’s total spam.
Y: Do you mean that email from Human Resources? I think it’s a legitimate request.
D: Uh-oh—I’ll have to dig it out of my inbox’s trashcan. I really thought it was from some scammer trying to steal my personal information. I just don’t trust emailed requests from strangers. Or at least, if I think the email is from a stranger.
Y: That makes me think of the city’s last election. There were political canvassers at my door every week! They were strangers to me, but when they asked me to fill out questionnaires about hot-button topics, I always did.
D: Maybe you’re just too nice, Yaël.
Y: Actually, I think we both behaved normally. It’s psychology. Email lacks the verbal cues and body language that signify trustworthiness. The email writer might know they’re trustworthy—but if that writer is a stranger to you, you’ll quickly be suspicious of them.
D: I see where you’re going. By bringing up the election, you’re saying that the reverse is also true: because those canvassers were there in person, you trusted them more, and so you agreed to answer their questionnaires.
Y: It turns out that with in-person requests, we feel a lot of social pressure to comply when someone asks for a favor. But an email is impersonal, and so it’s easy to turn down. Recent research suggests, though, that people mistakenly think their emails will get plenty of responses. Maybe HR should have just walked over to your desk…