The way Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin wrote letters in a pattern similar to the way people use e-mail today, according to a Northwestern University study.
Published in the journal Science, the study highlights the similarity of the two seemingly different activities-writing letters using pen and paper and creating electronic mails.
During the study, the researchers examined extensive letter correspondence records of 16 famous writers, performers, politicians and scientists, including Einstein, Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Ernest Hemingway.
They found that all the 16 individuals sent letters randomly but in cycles.
The researchers say that the writers tended to write a number of letters at one sitting, which is more efficient.
And when they wrote, according to the researchers, they had more to do with chance and circumstances than a rational approach of writing the most important letter first.
"We are interested in identifying and understanding patterns of human behavior, in learning how we make choices. There are patterns to how we spend our days, and these models of probability, of how people allocate their time to do certain tasks, can be applied to many different areas," said Luis Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Amaral led the research.
"People are not that rational. If a doctor, for example, better understands how we make decisions, he or she may be able to get better compliance with a treatment if it is tied to something a person does with regularity," added Amaral, who also is an Early Career Scientist with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
For their research, the experts studied correspondence that dated as far back as 1574 for philosopher Sir Francis Bacon and as recently, in the case of writer Carl Sandburg, as 1966.
The letter data for the 16 individuals included a list of letters sent and, for each letter, the name of the sender, the name of the recipient and the date it was written.