4-Second Silences Make Us Feel ... Awkward
Researchers cite ancient fears of exclusion
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted Dec 31, 2010 2:11 PM CST
Just a few seconds of silence can make us feel rejected, research suggests.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Just four seconds of silence in the middle of a conversation can be excruciating, research finds: That pause can leave us feeling left out and awkward, reports Time. “Conversational flow is associated with positive emotions, and a heightened sense of belonging, self-esteem, social validation and consensus,” researchers report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. “Disrupting the flow by a brief silence produces feelings of rejection and negative emotions.”

Researchers in Holland presented students with two stories; in one, a controversial comment provokes a silence, while in the other, conversation keeps going. Then they presented films depicting similar scenarios. The pieces that contained silences prompted more worry and feelings of rejection than the others. These are “primal fears,” notes Tom Jacobs in Miller-McCune: The study suggests that our sensitivity to feeling rejected is a part of human evolution—being excluded from a group could once have been a death sentence.

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Showing 3 of 18 comments
Myster Baad
Jan 2, 2011 9:06 AM CST
Too many people doing research come from "high involvement" cultures (helloooo, NE US?) who stigmatize you if you don't talk all over the other person and wave your arms while doing it. They naturally survey people close by and similar to themselves, and bang, silence is BAAD.
Jan 1, 2011 7:11 AM CST
I showed this article to my wife and girlfriend, and now neither are talking to me. They trying to tell me something?
Dec 31, 2010 4:01 PM CST
I have a trick to avoid any prolonged silence. When a silence goes on too long, in a conversation in which I am a part, I always, immediately, ask if the person with whom I'm speaking would like to go to the nearest spot where we could screw. It works every time.