What's in a Web mail address? If you happen to be firstname.lastname@example.org, for example, will people think you a narcissist? And if they do, will they be right?
Scientists at the University of Leipzig have taken a close look at these questions, and yes, they say, people really do judge others based on the e-mail addresses they choose. What's more interesting, however, is that these judgments tend to be right.
In a research paper (pdf) published recently in the Journal of Research in Personality, the scientists took a look at just under 600 e-mail addresses and had the people who created them fill out a brief personality questionnaire. Then, they asked 100 students to rate these same addresses to find out if the e-mail names seemed to be neurotic, open, agreeable, conscientious, narcissistic or extroverted.
The first thing they discovered is that the students tended to judge people based on their addresses. For example, people who used words like "little" or "sweet" or "baby" combined with cute animal names like "mousie" or "bunny" were thought to be more agreeable ... and neurotic. On the other hand, words like "King" or "thebest" were linked to narcissism.
Even more interesting, these judgments tended to be right in five of the six personality categories they measured.
Openness was the easiest thing to correctly gauge, but when it came to extroversion, the students' assessments tended to miss the mark. Study participants had strong opinions about whether e-mail addresses were owned by extroverts -- they just didn't happen to be particularly accurate.
One of the study's authors says he was surprised by the results. "It is indeed strange that extroversion is the exception because it is the trait [where] you would expect more accuracy," said Mitja Back, a research assistant with the university, in an e-mail interview.
He and his team are running another study to see if they get the same results, he said.
Still, the researchers say it's astonishing that the sliver of information that you pass on in your e-mail address can be enough for people to get a valid read on your personality.
So what if you don't want people to judge you based on your Gmail account? Are there discreet words that you can use to hide behind?
No way, say the researchers. Even if you choose a totally neutral address, you're still giving away information about yourself.
Their advice is simple: Choose an address you like. After all, is it really such a bad thing for others to see you the way you are?