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Why small talk can be a good thing

Posted July 6th, 2018, 10:24 AM IST

Why small talk can be a good thing

Washington: Turns out, small talk is not as bad as previously thought, and people who engage in more substantive conversations tend to be happier.

"Researchers also found that idle small talk is not necessarily negatively related to well-being, contrary to previous findings," said study co-author Matthias Mehl, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona.

The study, conducted with a more diverse sample size of 486 people, confirmed that quality conversations are indeed linked to greater happiness, but found that small talk seems to have no relationship with happiness one way or the other. The results hold true for both introverts and extroverts.

"We do not think anymore that there is an inherent tension between having small talk and having substantive conversations. Small talk didn't positively contribute to happiness, and it didn't negatively contribute to it," said Mehl who carried out the work alongside lead author Anne Milek.

The researchers' findings are based on an analysis of four separate studies, in which snippets of audio were collected from participants' daily interactions.

Upon waking until bedtime, participants in each study wore what is called the EAR, or Electronically Activated Recording, device, which is set to turn on intermittently for short periods of time throughout the day to capture candid moments of daily interactions.

The research team coded the conversations recorded by the EAR to determine whether they were substantive.

Overall, study participants who engaged in a greater number of substantive conversations were happier, regardless of whether they had more introverted or extroverted personalities.

"Although small talk didn't have any direct link to participants' well-being, it may still be important, in that it can help lay the groundwork for more substantive conversations," added Mehl.

While the study establishes a link between substantive conversations and happiness, it's hard to say whether having more substantive conversations actually makes people happier, or if happier people have more substantive conversations.

The full findings are published in the journal- Psychological Science.