From Mastroianni et al.:
Social connection is essential to physical and psychological well-being, and conversation is the primary means by which it is achieved. And yet, scientists know little about it—about how it starts, how it unfolds, or how it ends. Our studies attempted to remedy this deficit, and their results were surprising: conversations almost never end when anyone wants them to! At a moment in history when billions of people have been forced to curtail their normal social activities and to reimagine this one, a scientific understanding of conversation could hardly be timelier.Abstract
Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end. Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conversants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to.