What makes a conversation good?
Social connection is essential to our mental and physical health, but assessing and measuring exactly what drives that connection is a challenge for those who study the behavioral sciences. The look, gestures, predisposition and attention play an important role. But what if the speed of the interaction could indicate how well two people can connect? This is what asked Emma Templeton, an expert psychologist in brain sciences at the University of Darmounth, United States. The name of his research is “Fast response times signal social connection in conversation”, published this week in the scientific journal PNAS and what he validated is that the faster the response between two people who talk to get to know each other, the greater their connection. Thus, taking this into account in a job appointment or interview could have a bearing on the results that we obtain from that meeting.
Curious about her premise, I asked her about her finding: “We asked more than 300 pairs of friends and strangers to talk to each other and rate how connected they felt to their interlocutor. For both groups, response speed was a strong predictor of feeling more connected,” explains Templeton.
Conversations with faster response times felt more connected than conversations with slower response times, and within the latter, higher-click moments had faster response times than less connected moments. “The time scale in which one person responds when the other stops talking (250 milliseconds, that is, a quarter of a second) prevents conscious control, which allows us to have an honest signal of connection,” he describes. Finally, they showed that this signal is used by outside listeners as a heuristic for how well connected those people are: Conversations with faster response times were perceived as more connected than the same conversations with slower response times. Together, these findings suggest that response times comprise a strong and sufficient signal whether two people click.
I wondered if these people did not feel interrupted when approached quickly by their conversation partner, but in the study the speed was valued as a sign of interest. “When interruptions did occur, they tended to be brief and didn’t hurt feelings of connection. However, this probably has a lot to do with the particular conversational context we were looking at: namely, strangers having polite conversations to get to know you. We think interruptions in other contexts are likely to harm feelings of connection.” I’m going to use this finding in my next conversation, looking for the best connection.