The Faster People Respond to Each Other in a Conversation, the More Connected They Are Likely to Be

Non-verbal cues and your body language are all signs of interest in someone you just met. They are not always easy to decipher. To find out if this attraction is mutual, it’s worth turning to this method, according to a study showing that rapport with a conversation partner can be measured in milliseconds: reaction time during a conversation is a good indicator of the social connection between two partners.

People Talking

People Talking

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Chatting is a great way to get to know someone, especially a potential romantic partner. While you can often tell in a few moments if you like the person, it can be more difficult to determine if the attraction is mutual. Non-verbal cues like eye contact and smiling can indicate romantic interest as well as how fast is the answer to what’s being said, according to researchers at Dartmouth University.

“We’ve all have been in situations where we got along with some people but not others. We wanted to see if there was anything in people’s conversations that would tell us when they were getting along,” said Emma Templeton, a psychology and brain science graduate student at Dartmouth and one of the study’s co-authors. “Our results showed that the faster people respond during a conversation, the more connected they become,” she said.

The study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, consists of three separate experiments. The first study examined reaction time and social connection among 66 strangers. They participated in ten conversations in which they could talk about any topic. These conversations were videotaped so that participants could watch them again and assess how connected they felt to the other person at any given time. The researchers found that conversations that required a faster response time were associated with a stronger sense of social connection.

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Response time: it’s all about milliseconds

They then tried to determine if these results applied to close friends as well. The response time data was similar: the more fluid the conversation, the more connected participants felt to the other person. “It is well known that, on average, about a quarter of a second passes between turns in a conversation. Our study is the first to investigate the significance of this time interval in human relationships,” noted Thalia Wheatley, the Lincoln Filene Professor in Human Relations at Dartmouth, and principal investigator of the Dartmouth Social Systems Laboratory. “When people feel they can almost finish each other’s sentences, they close that 250-millisecond gap, and then you have two people in sync.”

Even more surprising, the study found that outside observers also use reaction time to determine if there is an affinity between two people. Are you at a party and want to know if your friend is having fun with that stranger they just met? Listen to the pace of their conversation. The faster they respond to each other, the more interested they are in getting closer.

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Still not 100% sure? Look for other signs of mutual attraction before making a move. According to a 2018 study in the journal Psychological Bulletin, people behave in very specific ways when they’re interested in someone. The main signs? Initiating a conversation, demanding physical proximity to the person, and mimicking their behavior. If you notice any of these signs, savor the moment and see what happens next.


Fast response times signal social connection in conversation

A meta-analytic investigation of the relation between interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior



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