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.