Neglect in human communication : quantifying the cost of cell-phone interruptions in face to face dialogs
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Calero, Cecilia I.
Fernandez Slezak, Diego
There is a prevailing belief that interruptions using cellular phones during face to face inter- actions may affect severely how people relate and perceive each other. We set out to deter- mine this cost quantitatively through an experiment performed in dyads, in a large audience in a TEDx event. One of the two participants (the speaker) narrates a story vividly. The lis- tener is asked to deliberately ignore the speaker during part of the story (for instance, at- tending to their cell-phone). The speaker is not aware of this treatment. We show that total amount of attention is the major factor driving subjective beliefs about the story and the con- versational partner. The effects are mostly independent on how attention is distributed in time. All social parameters of human communication are affected by attention time with a sole exception: the perceived emotion of the story. Interruptions during day-to-day commu- nication between peers are extremely frequent. Our data should provide a note of caution, by indicating that they have a major effect on the perception people have about what they say (whether it is interesting or not . . .) and about the virtues of the people around them.