When people ‘click’ their brains respond faster to each other, study reveals

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HANOVER, N.H. — People tend to “click” with certain individuals more than others. So, why are some friends always in sync while others can’t get on the same page? Researchers from Dartmouth College confirm this phenomenon is far more than just a figure of speech. Their study finds that when two people are on the same page in a conversation, their minds really do “click together” to a certain degree, leading to faster response times.

“We’ve all had the experience of clicking with some people but not others. We wanted to see if something in people’s conversations reveals when they click,” says first study author Emma Templeton, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth, in a media release. “Our results show that the faster people respond to each other, the more connected they feel.”

The team conducted three experiments during this project. The first focused specifically on response times and social connections between strangers who just met. During this phase, a total of 66 people engaged in 10 conversations, with each chat taking place with a different conversation partner of the same gender. The group could talk about anything, and researchers recorded each conversation on video. After each chat ended, participants watched their conversation and rated how much they felt they had connected with the other person on a moment-by-moment basis during the talk.

Sure enough, conversations with faster response times correlated with more feelings of social connection.

Faster responses reveal how well we ‘click’

Next, study authors wondered if the same findings would hold true among close friends. So, the team asked participants in the first experiment to bring along a friend for part two. Predictably, pairs of friends rated their conversations more favorably than chats with a stranger, but response times were actually quite similar. In other words, a quicker response time while speaking with a friend also predicts moments of greater social connection.

Finally, the research team set out to see if people viewing another conversation can use response times to get an idea of when two other individuals are clicking. A group of respondents from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk listened to some manipulated audio files of conversations. Researchers changed some of the recordings to move at a faster pace or a slower pace, while others remained unchanged and served as a control.

Just like the prior experiments, outside observers perceived the two speakers to be more connected when their talk featured fast response times. Considering the fact that all of the recorded talks shown to subjects were exactly the same besides manipulated response times, study authors conclude these findings make a compelling case that response times are a strong indicator of social connection.

“It’s well-established that, on average, there’s about a quarter of a second gap between turns during a conversation. Our study is the first to look at how meaningful that gap is, in terms of connection,” concludes senior study author Thalia Wheatley, principal investigator of the Dartmouth Social Systems Laboratory. “When people feel like they can almost finish each other’s sentences, they close that 250-millisecond gap, and that’s when two people are clicking.”

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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