What is the most important factor in being a good friend? According to new research conducted by a team of scientists at Yale University in New Haven (USA) simply listening to someone speak, without even looking at him, could increase our “empathic precision”.
The experts started from the hypothesis that communication using only our voice and our ability to listen, without involving any other sense, could facilitate that the interlocutors recognize the emotions of others. Does listening to someone with closed eyes improve “empathic precision”? (the ability to judge the emotions, thoughts and feelings of other people).
To test this hypothesis, the researchers devised five experiments whose results are published in the journal American Psychologist.
The experiments involved almost 1,800 volunteers with at least 18 years of age. The empathic accuracy of all of them was tested, comparing it in “single voice, visual only or combined voice and visualization” scenarios.
In one of the experiments, the participants were exposed to a recorded scenario in which two women made fun of each other. The mockery was chosen because it provokes a mixed range of emotions. The participants were invited to estimate the feelings of the parties involved in the dialogue. They were given a range of emotions and asked to rate the amount of those emotions they thought they experienced (from 0 to 9).
In another experiment they attended a live interaction. The communication only by voice or with all the senses was achieved by turning the light on and off in the room.
On average, in the five experiments, people who listened without observing visually identified emotions more accurately.
“The social and biological sciences throughout the years have demonstrated the deep desire of individuals to connect with others and the variety of skills that people possess to discern emotions or intentions,” explains Michael Kraus, leader of the work. “But, in the presence of will and ability, people often perceive the emotions of others inaccurately.”
“Our research suggests thatrelying on a combination of vocal and facial signals, or only facial signals, may not be the best strategy to accurately recognize the emotions or intentions of others, “adds Kraus.
Previous studies have shown that when we want to mask our feelings, we use facial and non-verbal cues, rather than verbal cues.
Another reason that explains the result of the study could have to do with multitasking. It has been shown that trying to do several things at once decreases performance, and the same could be true when it comes to listening and watching.
“I think these results are amazing.” Many emotional intelligence tests are based on precise perceptions of the faces, and what we find here is that perhaps people pay too much attention to the face: the voice can have much of the content needed to perceive it. the mood of others with great precision. The findings suggest that we should focus more on studying vocalizations of emotion, “concludes Kraus.