Largest Email Study Ever Shows How Very Predictable We Are

Email has been staple of our lives for over two decades, and yet many of us still struggle to manage it. We’ll whittle our inboxes down to empty one week, only to feel overwhelmed as the number of unread messages climbs into the hundreds the next. Are we always an unpredictable mess when it comes to email?

Actually, no, according to researchers at Yahoo labs, who examined more than two million users exchanging some 16 billion messages in the largest email study ever conducted. To search for patterns in our email behavior, the researchers tracked the identities of senders and recipients, the time of day emails were sent, email length, the number of attachments, and the type of device used. They also looked at demographic factors, including age and gender. The conclusion? When it comes to email, we’re drearily predictable.

Younger people tend to send shorter, faster replies than older people, and men send slightly shorter and faster replies than women, the study finds. We respond more promptly during weekdays and work hours, and when we receive more messages, we tend to respond to a smaller fraction of them, and with shorter replies.

Perhaps this information comes as no great surprise to you, but it’s incredibly valuable for computer algorithms. Software developers can use our predictability to design better email management applications that’ll ultimately prevent us from experiencing “overload”-the scientific term for that feeling when you’d rather jump in piranha-infested waters than open your inbox.