When people see more than one forecast, whether the predictions are expressed verbally or numerically changes how they're interpreted.Numbers or Words? How Predictions Are Presented to Us Affects How We Combine Them
Narrator: You’ve been there before, sitting next to a stranger on perhaps an airplane or a train or at a work conference. The typical urge is to sit in silence or look at our phones. You could strike up a conversation with that stranger next to you, but you know it’ll probably only be somewhat interesting for a little bit, and then it will hit that dreaded dip where you both start to run out of things to say. And then it’s downhill from there, right? Research shows you could be mistaken about that.
Ed O’Brien: In our work, we find that that is indeed a source of concern that people have. Even when conversations are fun for a little bit, people worry about running out of things to say. It kind of feels conversations are front-loaded. You used your best story. You used your best joke. It’s going well. If you’re stuck with this person for a long time, it’s just going to go downhill.
Narrator: That’s Chicago Booth’s Ed O’Brien. He and his coauthors wanted to see what would happen if people were forced to stay in conversation with a stranger. They ran a study where participants who didn’t know each other were paired up and asked to converse for up to 30 minutes.
Ed O’Brien: Every once in a while, every five minutes, for example, we might break them. They privately rate their experience, how that’s going, and they also predict how they think it’s going to keep going. So we can track these ratings over time and we can compare the predicted trajectory of enjoyment, for example. So for people in our studies, it starts off very enjoyable, and they think it’s going to tank. Like, what else are we going to possibly keep talking about over 30 minutes?
Narrator: The researchers’ findings differ from what you might imagine you would feel if you were forced into a 30-minute conversation with a stranger.
Ed O’Brien: What we find is that if you’re actually forced to be around this person, the conversation keeps going for longer than you might have wanted. People find more things to say than they realize. They push the conversation along in interesting ways. Boredom is an ultimate motivator to make things more interesting in ways that our prediction mode or simulations don’t fully account for.
Narrator: And what about those introverts out there who never want to talk to anyone?
Ed O’Brien: Even the people who don’t want to talk, if you’ve forced them to stay in the conversation, those are also the people who report, “It was really worth my time. I’m glad I did that,” so going against their own individual intuitions. And we can compare that to their experienced enjoyment if we have them sit in that room for 30 minutes and report their actual experiences. It turns out it remains highly enjoyable. In many cases, it grows more enjoyable over the course of 30 minutes, even among participants who thought it was going to tank.
Narrator: The researchers ran a similar study, where they stopped the conversation and gave participants the opportunity to bail.
Ed O’Brien: Do you want to keep chatting for the next 10, 20, 30 minutes? Or for the rest of that time, you still have to stay in the lab, you can just sit in silence. No phones, no computers, but no other person either, so you can just be alone. We find even among those people who freely choose, I really just want to be alone here, if they stayed in the study and talked with that person for the remainder of the session, they reported very high happiness, high enjoyment, to their own great surprise. They were actually really, really happy that they stuck around to talk with that person rather than did what they wanted to do, which was stay alone. There’s a lot of existing research that suggests people have concerns and anxieties about how to handle these interactions. They want them to go well. They don’t want to look bad in front of other people. But if you force people to stick around with each other, have a prolonged conversation, a similar psychology seems to be at play, that people don’t want to be bored. They don’t want to make things awkward, and they work together to fill that space and find things to talk about and interact with each other in a positive way, in a way that our simplified imaginations just don’t seem to appreciate. We think it’s going to be dull and boring, but we find a way to make it work.
More from Chicago Booth Review
The expectation of symmetry in social relationships can influence behavior and even deter crime.Line of Inquiry: Anuj K. Shah on Why Learning about Others Makes Us Feel Less Anonymous
We want to demonstrate our commitment to your privacy. Please review Chicago Booth's privacy notice, which provides information explaining how and why we collect particular information when you visit our website.