Getting to know one another is fundamental to starting any close relationship. Thinking back to the first dates many of us have had, we probably started with very important questions such as “Why did you join Tinder?” or “Why exactly did I swipe right?” As we delved deeper into the conversation, we may have discussed sequentially deeper topics such as whether we would like to be famous, what a “perfect day” may be, or even sharing embarrassing moments (my answers to this final question are probably responsible for a myriad of failed first dates). These questions (and more) came from an actual study which explored the .1 Although conversations come in many forms, they are generally characterized by some form of reciprocity. In other words, we typically take turns asking and answering questions with another person during interactions. But we may also find ourselves interacting with someone who is more of a “chatty Kathy” who does all of the talking, or someone who just sits in silence listening to you. Would such one-way interactions end in a disaster, or does engaging in any form of self-disclosure, whether it is just listening or talking, still hold the power to lead to interaction number two? That is the question that my colleague Dr. Sue Sprecher and I set to answer in a recent study.2
We invited two people (who did not know one another) into the laboratory to engage in two brief interactions over a webcam. You may be wondering why we chose to use a webcam instead of having people talk face-to-face. The webcam allowed us to maintain control of a number of possible extraneous influences that could affect our results — such as body language, posture, and anything else that may influence the interaction beyond our primary manipulation: whether people asked and answered questions reciprocally (i.e., taking turns asking and answering a set of questions), or whether one person engaged in one role at a time (listener vs. talker).
Importantly, the dyads interacted twice, so both persons in the non-reciprocity condition received a chance to ask questions and to answer them, thus achieving at least some balance in disclosure. After each interaction, we asked participants how much they liked their partners, how fun their interactions were, how much they thought their partners liked them, and how responsive they believed their interaction partners to be.
What did we learn from this study? First, reciprocating self-disclosure did promote liking: partners who took turns asking and answering questions liked each other more than partners who engaged in only one role (though that is not to say that these dyads did not like one another). Reciprocating dyads also had more fun in the interaction, believed their partner liked them more, and even perceived more reciprocity in their partner than did the dyads that engaged in one role at a time.
We also wondered why reciprocity in disclosure facilitates more liking than engaging in only one of the two disclosing roles. This is where our measurement of interaction enjoyment, perceptions of being liked by the other, and perceived responsiveness came into play. We saw that all of these variables uniquely explained the difference in liking we saw between the two disclosure conditions. For example, because people found that engaging in reciprocal disclosure was more fun than non-reciprocal disclosure, they liked each other more.
What is the moral of the story? Simply put, don’t do all the talking, and don’t just sit there without saying a word. A conversation is a two-player game, and both people have to be engaged and responsive to have a good time with one another. Even generally innocuous questions can go a long way, and if you reciprocate them, then you may very well get swiped right again.
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1Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 363-377.
2Sprecher, S., & Treger, S. (2015). The benefits of turn-taking reciprocal self-disclosure in get-acquainted interactions. Personal Relationships, 22, 460-475.
Stan Treger, PhD. – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Stan’s interests focus around the big questions in life, especially “how can I get people to like me?” (they say research is “me-search”). In his work, Stan has been curious to see how phenomena such as humor, conversation, and music can bring people closer together. You can learn more about Stan’s work by visiting his website: www.stantreger.com