A few minutes of small talk can improve future social interaction, new research findsThursday 1 Sep 2022
Research supported by CAGE finds that just four minutes of small talk can reveal personality traits and help us to predict the behaviour of others.
Professor Daniel Sgroi and Dr Neha Bose (University of Warwick) conducted an experiment to find out more about the role of small talk in social interaction.
They asked a group of 338 participants to complete a personality and IQ test, before engaging in two strategic games in pairs. Half of the participants made small talk by text with their partner for 4 minutes before playing the games. The other half had no interaction.
The researchers found that the group that chatted beforehand were better able to predict the IQ and personality of their partner and worked better together in the strategic games.
In one of the games, each participant was given £20 and asked to contribute to a communal pot shared with their partner. This is known as a ‘public goods game’ and is designed to test the how much people will commit personal resources for mutual benefit.
The researchers found that partners who had chatted before the game were more likely to correctly predict their partner’s contribution to the communal pot. Partners who chatted also contributed 30% more to the communal pot than those who did not.
Daniel Sgoi said, ‘It might seem like a drain on time and productivity, but our research suggests small talk is an important way to learn about the personality of others, which in turn helps us to better predict how they will behave in the future.
Those who engaged in small talk with their partner had a better understanding of their partner’s personality. They scored much better at predicting their character traits and in turn this helped them to predict how they would behave. The bottom line is that they performed better and earned more money than those who didn’t have the opportunity to chat.’
Bose, N. and Sgoi, D.(2022) Small Talk and Theory of Mind in Strategic Decision-Making, PLoS ONE (Open Access)