People feel most connected to those who respond quickly to them during conversation, according to research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Findings revealed that even third-party listeners felt that conversations with faster response times signaled stronger social connection.
On a typical day, most of us engage in many conversations with many people. Sometimes we “click” with others, and sometimes we don’t. Researchers Emma M. Templeton and her team wondered if there was a way to discern when people click based on their conversations. Specifically, the researchers looked at response times.
Talking to other people involves coordinated turn-taking – one person contributes while the other listens and then the roles are reversed. This exchange is orchestrated quite perfectly, although it does require a bit of mental work. To respond to a conversation, a person needs to predict where their conversation partner’s thoughts are going, anticipate when they are about to stop talking, and get an appropriate response. How quickly someone does this can be a reflection of how well they can predict and understand their conversation partner’s mind, and therefore a sign of a connection between two people.
“I love the feeling of having a good conversation with someone. I wanted to know: what makes some conversations go well and others go wrong?” said Templeton, a graduate student at Dartmouth College. “Since so many things happen in conversation at the same time, we decided to start by simply recording a bunch of conversations between pairs of people. Then we can quantify different conversational behaviors in these recordings and relate them to how the people connected in those conversations reported feeling about each other.”
Templeton and his colleagues recruited 66 college students and placed them in 10-minute conversations with each other. Each student engaged in 10 different one-on-one discussions where they were free to talk about whatever they wanted, and most of the students didn’t know each other. After each conversation, participants rated their satisfaction with the conversation. They then watched a video recording of the conversation and rated the level of connection they felt with their conversation partner at different times.
For each conversation, the researchers calculated the response times between each turn of speech. According to the researchers’ predictions, conversations with faster response times, on average, were rated as more pleasant and evoked stronger feelings of social connection. When analyzing moment-to-moment ratings in the conversation, faster response times predicted greater feelings of connection. Additionally, participants with faster overall response times had partners who enjoyed the conversation more and felt more connected to them.
A follow-up study among a subset of the sample further suggested that these effects extend to conversations between friends. When subjects talked to three of their close friends, again, faster response times predicted greater enjoyment of the conversation and stronger feelings of connection.
In both studies, it appeared that it was a partner’s quick response, not a participant’s quick response, that contributed to the increased social connection. Specifically, the researchers found that a partner’s response time significantly explained variation in feelings of social connection, while a participant’s response time did not. According to the study authors, this may indicate that a partner’s immediate response time was received as a sign that they were actively listening and interested.
“We’ve shown that when people respond quickly to each other in conversation, that’s a sign they’re connecting,” Templeton said.
Finally, a third study revealed that even outsiders interpret fast response time as a sign of social connection. Third-party listeners were assigned to hear portions of the recorded conversations from Study 1. Importantly, some of these excerpts were manipulated to include faster response times (one-fifth the length of the original) or slower response times (twice the length of the original). of the original).
Participants rated conversations as more enjoyable and partners as more connected when response times were sped up compared to the original. On the other hand, they rated conversations as less pleasant and partners as less connected when response times decreased. Notably, observers were never instructed to pay attention to response times, suggesting that they implicitly learned that response times were a sign of social connection.
Overall, the findings suggest that even split-second differences in response times can affect inferences of social connection between conversation partners. The authors say future studies should explore additional contexts, such as negotiations or discussions, to see if fast response times might be interpreted differently in these situations.
“We looked at it in the context of strangers meeting and friends meeting. There are many other types of conversations out there! It will be interesting to see if the response time signals different things in different types of conversations,” Templeton said. “We continue to explore this dataset to investigate what other types of conversational behaviors reliably relate to connection.”
“Because these response times are happening so quickly, we don’t think they’re something that can be falsified,” the researcher added. “I mean, you probably can’t suddenly decide to try to respond faster in an attempt to make someone feel connected to you. The only way to respond quickly is to understand where the other person is coming from and anticipate where they are going.”
The study, “Fast response times signal social connection in conversation,” was authored by Emma M. Templeton, Luke J. Chang, Elizabeth A. Reynolds, Marie D. Cone LeBeaumont, and Thalia Wheatley.