Hidden costs of text-based electronic communication on complex reasoning tasks: Motivation maintenance and impaired downstream performance

Ravi Shanker Gajendran, Jeffrey Loewenstein, Hyeran Choi, Sibel Ozgen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The popularity of remote work and a norm of constant connectivity have made text-based computer-mediated communication (tCMC) such as email inevitable for many organizational tasks. This could be worsening communicators’ performance on their later work. Specifically, drawing on media synchronicity theory (Dennis & Valacich, 1999), we propose that using tCMC for convergence processes—resolving ambiguity and conflicting interpretations to form shared understandings—is more difficult than using face-to-face communication. We use conservation of resources (COR) theory to argue this greater communication difficulty could dampen motivation maintenance for subsequent tasks, which, in turn, is likely to hamper knowledge work tasks that require complex reasoning. Supporting this line of reasoning, four experimental studies show causal effects of using tCMC (relative to in-person interaction) for tasks dependent on convergence processes on motivation maintenance and later complex reasoning tasks. A fifth study using an experience sampling design shows day-to-day changes in tCMC use influence depletion and downstream motivation maintenance for individuals whose jobs require complex problem solving. Together, these five studies indicate using text-based communication media has lasting effects on communicators beyond the communication task itself. These studies raise new questions about the pervasive use of email and other forms of text-based communication in organizations for individuals’ motivation and effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104130
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation of resources theory
  • Media synchronicity theory
  • Motivation maintenance
  • Remote work
  • Text-based computer-mediated communication
  • Virtual work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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