Nonverbal Auditory Cues Allow Relationship Quality to be Inferred During Conversations
Dunbar RIM., Robledo JP., Tamarit I., Cross I., Smith E.
The claim that nonverbal cues provide more information than the linguistic content of a conversational exchange (the Mehrabian Conjecture) has been widely cited and equally widely disputed, mainly on methodological grounds. Most studies that have tested the Conjecture have used individual words or short phrases spoken by actors imitating emotions. While cue recognition is certainly important, speech evolved to manage interactions and relationships rather than simple information exchange. In a cross-cultural design, we tested participants’ ability to identify the quality of the interaction (rapport) in naturalistic third party conversations in their own and a less familiar language, using full auditory content versus audio clips whose verbal content has been digitally altered to differing extents. We found that, using nonverbal content alone, people are 75–90% as accurate as they are with full audio cues in identifying positive vs negative relationships, and 45–53% as accurate in identifying eight different relationship types. The results broadly support Mehrabian’s claim that a significant amount of information about others’ social relationships is conveyed in the nonverbal component of speech.