BERKELEY, Calif. — How you feel about a person with a strong opinion may depend on whether or not you’re reading their thoughts on a blog post or hearing it in an actual conversation with them. A new study finds that when we hear an opinion spoken aloud, we humanize the speaker more, even if we don’t agree with what they’re saying.
Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley and the University of Chicago used a series of experiments to identify this phenomenon in the context of contentious political issues.
In one experiment, the researchers video-recorded six participants expressing their real opinions on one of three especially polarizing subjects: abortion, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and rap versus country music. For each topic, one participant represented one side, and another represented the opposing side.
After the recordings were made, the researchers asked another group of participants to receive the messages online. Some received the full video recordings, others received only the audio of the recordings, and some only received a transcript of what was said.
These online participants were then asked to report whether or not each of the speakers had a sophisticated intellect, based on a number of survey questions, including rating the extent to which the speaker seemed “refined and cultured,” “rational and logical,” or “like an adult, not like a child.” They were also asked to report on the emotional warmth of the speaker relative to a normal person, giving the speakers grades on superficiality, responsiveness, and perceived emotional warmth.
Overall, participants who heard the audio or saw the video of the speakers attributed more sophistication and warmth than to the speakers whose transcripts they viewed, even when the speakers’ opinions were opposed to their own.
In other words, seeing a person speak or hearing their voice makes them more relatable.
“Our findings show that even when the content is the same, the medium through which it is expressed can affect evaluations of the communicator,” says lead author Juliana Schroeder in a release by the Association for Psychological Science. “It is possible that variance in communicators’ natural cues in their voices, such as tone, can convey their thoughtfulness.”
The study was published Oct. 25, 2017 in the journal Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science.