Do conversations end when people want them to

Published on Mar 9, 2021in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America9.412
· DOI :10.1073/PNAS.2011809118
Adam M. Mastroianni2
Estimated H-index: 2
(Harvard University),
Daniel T. Gilbert65
Estimated H-index: 65
(Harvard University)
+ 1 AuthorsTimothy D. Wilson78
Estimated H-index: 78
(UVA: University of Virginia)
Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end. Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conversants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners' desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic "coordination problem" that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to.
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