Most conversations do not end when people want them to, study finds

No, you hang up! Most conversations do not end when people want them to, study finds

  • US researchers have conducted two studies totalling 932 phone conversations
  • Conversations were between loved ones such as family and complete strangers
  • Phone calls ‘almost never ended’ when both conversants wanted them to end  

In the era of online interactions via Zoom, most conversations do not end when people want them to, a new study reports.

US psychologists conducted two studies totalling 932 phone conversations – between loved ones and between strangers. 

They asked people to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their call partner had wanted it to end.

Both studies revealed that conversations almost never ended when both people wanted them to end and rarely ended when one person wanted them to end.

The average difference between the desired conversation duration and the actual duration was roughly half the duration of the conversation itself. 

In the era of online interactions via Zoom, most conversations do not end when people want them to, a new study reports

Zoom is the most-downloaded free iPhone app in the UK in 2020, Apple revealed at the start of December.  

The placing reflects the public’s increasing reliance on video calls to accommodate working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Second-placed on the list is the NHS’s Covid-19 app released back in September.

Zoom and the Covid-19 app overtook WhatsApp and Instagram, the first and second-placed free UK Apple Store downloads in 2019. 

Apple didn’t announce exact download figures, however. 

The rest of the top 10 most popular free Apple Store apps in the UK were TikTok, WhatsApp, Houseparty, Instagram, Microsoft Teams, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook.

More: Zoom and NHS Covid-19 app ‘most downloaded free iPhone apps’

Researchers had wanted to find out if a conversation is typically ‘an exercise in discoordination that ends when precisely no one wants it to’ – although it wasn’t specific to Zoom calls, which have soared since the start of the pandemic last year.  

The study has been authored by experts from Harvard University, as well as University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia. 

‘Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioural science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities,’ the team say in their paper.

‘Social connection is essential to physical and psychological well-being, and conversation is the primary means by which it is achieved. 

‘And yet, scientists know little about it – about how it starts, how it unfolds, or how it ends. 

‘Our studies attempted to remedy this deficit, and their results were surprising – conversations almost never end when anyone wants them to.’

Overall, people were poor at estimating their partner’s desire to end a conversation and did not realise how different their partner’s desire was from their own.  

The study could help people address new and more direct strategies for ending phone conversations, which can last much longer than anyone needs them to. 

When it comes to remote working, phone calls have been criticised as pointless and for wasting time during the working day. 

‘At a moment in history when billions of people have been forced to curtail their normal social activities, a scientific understanding of conversation could hardly be timelier,’ said the experts.  

The team conducted two studies in which participants reported when they had wanted their conversation with one other person to end and estimated when the participant’s partner had wanted it to end. 

Although conversation is among the most ubiquitous of social activities, it is unclear whether conversations end when people want them to end 

In study one, they examined people’s conversations with ‘intimates’ – romantic partners, friends or family members – in everyday life, and in study two they examined people’s conversations with strangers in the lab.   

In the first study, 806 respondents – 367 female and 439 male – completed an online survey about their most recent conversation with an intimate. 

They were then asked to report whether there was a point during the conversation at which they had felt ready for it to end, and if so, to estimate that point, and if not, to estimate how much longer they wished the conversation had continued. 

Participants were asked whether there was a point during the conversation at which they had felt ready for it to end – to which 66.51 per cent answered yes. 

Participants who answered yes also enjoyed the conversation considerably less than did those who answered no. 

On average, participants wished their conversations had been 1.91 min longer than they were. 

In the second study, 252 participants were paired with a complete stranger to discuss anything for as long as they wanted, so long as the conversation was longer than one minute and shorter than 45 minutes. 

‘We asked participants whether there was a point during the conversation at which they had felt ready for it to end, and 68.65 per cent answered yes and 31.35 per cent answered no,’ the team said 

‘These values are nearly identical to the values seen in study one, which were 66.51 per cent and 34.49 per cent, respectively). 

As in study one, participants who answered yes enjoyed the conversation less than did those who answered no.

But while in study one people wanted to talk a bit longer on average, in study two  people wanted to talk a bit shorter – however, both numbers were ‘essentially zero’, study author Adam Mastroianni at Harvard told MailOnline. 

‘That’s not because people actually left when they wanted, though – it’s because the people who wanted more and the people who wanted less cancelled each other out. Few people actually got what they wanted.’ 

Although some conversations are terminated by external circumstances, such as a train arriving or a school bell ringing, in many cases people have to take it upon themselves to end a conversation – often with awkward results.  

Psychologists, linguists, and communications scholars have studied the ‘closing rituals’ that people use to end their conversations – including ‘stock phrases’ like ‘it’s been great talking to you’ and subtle segues (‘so anyway’).

But these experts have not studied how and when people decide to use them – and whether a conversation has outstayed its welcome with either party decides to terminate it.   

‘If conversants come to a conversation with the same goal, then we might expect their conversation to end when they have achieved it,’ the researchers point out.

‘If they come with different goals, then we might expect their conversation to end when the first of them has achieved it. 

‘Two employees who meet to find the best date for the company picnic may part ways when they find one, and two strangers who chat for pleasure at a party may continue until one of them grows weary, makes an excuse, and wanders away. 

‘If conversation is a means by which people achieve a variety of goals, then conversations should end when one or both conversants has done just that.’    

The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Do you suffer from ‘Zoom fatigue?’ Stanford professor reveals four reasons including staring at yourself and a lack of mobility to explain why hours of video conferencing results in exhaustion 

The coronavirus pandemic forced offices to close and meetings to move online that has created a new phenomenon known as ‘Zoom fatigue’. 

Named after the popular video chat platform, the term is used to describe the exhaustion that comes with participating in video conferences, whether it be on Zoom, Google Meet or another application.

A researcher from Stanford University recently investigate this idea to determine reasons that could cause people to become exhausted while they are simply sitting in front of a computer.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson determined excessive amounts of eye contact, a drop in mobility, video chats increase cognitive load and constantly seeing yourself lead to ‘Zoom fatigue

However, the expert has also provided solutions for each to help employees revive themselves while spending hours video chatting at least five days a week.

A researcher from Stanford University recently investigate this idea to determine reasons that could cause people to become exhausted while they are simply sitting in front of a computer 

Bailenson stressed that his goal is not to vilify any particular videoconferencing platform – he appreciates and uses tools like Zoom regularly.

But he wants to highlight how current implementations of videoconferencing technologies are exhausting and to suggest interface changes, many of which are simple to implement.

‘Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,’ Bailenson said.

The first reason was identified to be ‘excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.’

Video conferencing requires users to keep their eyes glued to screens for hours each day, which can be tiring.

During in-person meetings, the audience typically looks only at the individual speaking, but when events are held online we tend to look at everyone in the chat room and it seems as if everyone is staring at you.

‘Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,’ Bailenson said.

‘When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.’

He continues to explain that when someone’s face gets close to ours in real life, our brains process the action as an intense situation that leads to either mating or conflict.

‘What’s happening, in effect, when you’re using Zoom for many, many hours is you’re in this hyper-aroused state,’ Bailenson said.

To combat intense, up-close eye contact he suggests reducing the size of the video chat window.

The second cause for Zoom fatigue is seeing yourself on the screen.

‘In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,’ Bailenson added.

Bailenson cited studies showing that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. 

Many of us are now seeing ourselves on video chats for many hours every day.

‘It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror,’ he said.

To avoid staring at yourself, users can activate the ‘hide self-view’ button by right clicking on their own photo – everyone else can see you, but you cannot.

Since employees no longer have to walk to a conference room during meetings, many have experienced a decrease in mobility.

Bailenson has identified this as a trigger for Zoom fatigue and recommends setting up the camera farther away from the screen to allow yourself room to pace or walk around as if you would in a real world event.

And the final reason is ‘cognitive load is much higher in video chats.’

Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But in video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals.

However, he suggests have an ‘audio only’ break by turning off the camera so you do not have to decipher nonverbal activity ‘so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.’


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