According to a 2011 Dutch study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, awkward silences are "particularly disturbing if they disrupt the conversational flow." For the study, psychologist Namkje Koudenburg and her team of researchers held two experiments where they measured volunteers' varying reactions to awkward silences. In both scenarios, the subjects were exposed to conversations where one person made an insensitive or inappropriate remark. In the first version of each experiment, the remarks are followed by obvious silence. The alternate versions had the conversation flowing easily after the awkward remarks (no pause). After the conversations with awkward silences, the participants reported feeling "more anxious, rejected and less self-assured." So you're not the only one experiencing negative feelings after that painfully awkward silence—others feel it too. When conversations remain fluid, however, the findings reveal that these "conversations are associated with feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and social validation." And how long does a silence need to be before it's considered awkward or disrupting? According to this study, just four seconds. One Mississippi... two Mississippi...
The Science Of Awkward Silences
Socially adept person: "Good morning!"
You: "I'm good, thanks."
Don't worry—we've all been there. But why do you get such a gut-wrenching feeling during those few seconds of awkward silence? It all goes back to humans being social creatures with one ultimate fear: rejection.
Four Seconds Too Long
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What Makes Awkward Silences So Awkward?
We need a steady conversation flow to feel a sense of belonging.
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The Science of Social Awkwardness, In General
Science says, own your awkwardness!
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