A team of researchers at the American Psychological Association explored how people prefer and enjoy deep conversations with strangers. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In a series of 12 experiments, the researchers examined more than 1800 participants, mostly strangers to each other. They divided the group into pairs and asked them to discuss either deep or shallow topics. In some cases, people received questionnaires with topics or they generated their own conversations. In other cases, people were asked to ‘customize’ their conversations based on preconceived notions, like people’s interests, caring or uncaring conversation partners’ increased or decreased desire for having meaningful conversations, etc.
Before the experimental phase, the participants were also asked to predict the awkwardness of a conversation with a stranger, their expectations from their conversation partner, and the extent to which they can enjoy conversations with strangers. After the experiments were over, they rated the same factors based on their actual experiences.
The results revealed that people prefer deep and meaningful conversations, but they usually refrain from it because they underestimate how much people are interested in their lives or wrongly assume that deeper conversations will be awkward and less enjoyable. However, this does not mean that they do not enjoy small talk or find them awkward.
The researchers also claim that deep conversations come with several benefits, such as meaningful relationships, more lively social interactions, and the development of positive emotions.
One of the lead researchers, Nicholas Epley, said, “Human beings are deeply social and tend to reciprocate in conversation. If you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important exchanged in return, leading to a considerably better conversation.”
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Kardas, M., Kumar, A., & Epley, N. (2022). Overly shallow?: Miscalibrated expectations create a barrier to deeper conversation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 122(3), 367–398. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000281