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Namkje Koudenburg: how do you express your disapproval without using words?

How do you express your disapproval without using words?

In a polarizing society, gauging the opinions of people around you is becoming increasingly important. In everyday conversations, people are constantly checking if they and their conversation partners feel the same way. They can find out if others express their opinions explicitly, but it turns out that people are also very good at picking up subtle signals that indicate whether others do or do not agree with them. One such signal is a brief interruption of the flow of a conversation.

Namkje Koudenburg
In my work, I demonstrate that a brief period of silence after someone has expressed their opinion can be interpreted by that person as disagreement. The silence signals that the person speaking might have crossed the boundary of a cultural norm, and should perhaps adjust their stated opinion. But the opposite also turns out to be true. For example, what happens if someone states their opinion that “women are worthless as leaders”, and the conversation just continues as if nothing has happened? It turns out that people infer from this that their conversational partners share their opinion. Indeed, the opinion is seen as commonplace: in this case, the idea that women should not hold leadership roles is thus perceived as a shared cultural norm. In this way, subtle aspects in the flow of a conversation can both serve to maintain and to change our culture.
dr. N. (Namkje) Koudenburg
First name
Associate Professor of Psychology
Group processes and communication. Polarisation, social change, micro-dynamics of conversation
Last modified:03 September 2019 12.41 p.m.
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