People feel more connected to those who respond quickly to them during a conversation, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences† The findings showed that even outside listeners believed that conversations with faster response times indicate a stronger social bond.
Within a typical day, most of us have many conversations with different 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 distinguish when people click based on their conversations. Specifically, the researchers looked at response times.
Conversing with others involves a coordinated turn: one person contributes while the other listens and then the roles are reversed. This exchange is orchestrated fairly seamlessly, although it does require quite a bit of mental work. To respond to a conversation, a person must predict where his interlocutor’s thoughts will go, anticipate when he is about to stop talking, and collect an appropriate response. How quickly a person does this may be a reflection of how well he can predict and understand the mind of his interlocutor, and therefore a signal of connection between two people.
“I like the feeling of having a really good conversation with someone. I wanted to know: what makes some conversations good and others bad?” said Templeton, a graduate student at Dartmouth College. “Because so many things happen at once in a conversation, we decided to start by simply recording some conversations between two people. We can then quantify different conversational behaviors in those recordings and relate them to how connected people in those conversations reported having feelings for each other.”
Templeton and her colleagues recruited 66 college students and had them conduct 10-minute conversations with each other. Each student took part in 10 different one-on-one discussions in which they were free to talk about whatever they wanted, and most of the students didn’t know each other. After each interview, participants rated their experience of the interview. They then watched a video recording of the conversation and rated the level of closeness they felt with their interlocutor at different times.
For each talk, the researchers calculated the response times between each talk. Consistent with the researchers’ predictions, conversations with faster response times on average were rated as more enjoyable and evoked stronger feelings of social connection. When looking at moment-by-moment ratings during a conversation, faster response times predicted a greater sense of belonging. Furthermore, participants with faster overall response times had partners who enjoyed the conversation more and felt more connected to them.
A follow-up study of part of the sample further suggested that these effects extend to conversations between friends. When subjects had conversations with three of their close friends, faster response times again predicted greater enjoyment of the conversation and stronger feelings of belonging.
In both studies, it seemed that it was a partner’s quick response rather than a participant’s quick response that contributed to greater social connection. Specifically, the researchers found that a partner’s response time significantly explained the variance in feelings of social connection, while a participant’s own response time did not. According to the study authors, this may indicate that a partner’s rapid response time was received as a signal that they were actively listening and interested.
“We’ve shown that when people respond quickly to each other in a conversation, it’s a signal that they’re getting in touch,” Templeton said.
Finally, a third study revealed that even outsiders interpret a fast response time as a signal of social connection. External listeners were instructed to listen to portions of the recorded conversations from Study 1. Importantly, some of these snippets were manipulated to include faster response times (one-fifth the length of the original) or slower response times (twice the length of the original). from the original).
Participants rated conversations more enjoyable and partners more connected when response times were accelerated compared to the original. In contrast, they rated conversations as less enjoyable and partners less connected when response times were delayed. Notably, the observers were never told to pay attention to response times, suggesting they had implicitly learned that response time was a signal of social connection.
Overall, the findings suggest that even split-second differences in response times can influence inferences of social connection between interlocutors. The authors say future studies should explore additional contexts, such as negotiations or arguments, to see if rapid response times can be interpreted differently in these situations.
“We’ve looked at this in the context of strangers getting to know each other and friends catching up. There are many more types of conversations! It will be interesting to see if the response time indicates different things in different types of calls,” Templeton said. “We continue to examine this dataset to investigate what other types of conversational behaviors are reliably related to connection.”
“Because these reaction times are so fast, we don’t think they can be faked,” the researcher added. That is, you probably can’t suddenly decide to respond more quickly in an attempt to make someone feel connected to you. The only way to react quickly is to understand where the other is coming from and anticipate where he is going.”
The study, “Fast Response Times Signal Social Connection in a Conversation,” was authored by Emma M. Templeton, Luke J. Chang, Elizabeth A. Reynolds, Marie D. Cone LeBeaumont, and Thalia Wheatley.