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A stranger’s personality traits can be revealed in 4 minutes, study says

Lynn Reichert, STEM Action Center community and innovation manager, holds brain-shaped stress balls at the Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
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Lynn Reichert, STEM Action Center community and innovation manager, holds a brain-shaped stress ball Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights. (Christine Murphy, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 2-3 minutes

TORONTO, Ontario — While small talk can sometimes seem trivial or mundane, some suggest studying it could help people improve their future interactions with each other, especially in a team setting.

A UK study conducted by the University of Warwick recruited 338 participants to complete both personality and cognitive ability tests before participating in two strategy games with a partner. Half of the participants (168) had four minutes of conversation with their partner before the game, and the other half (170) did not talk to each other beforehand.

The results of this small study suggested that brief conversations made a difference in the way participants perceived each other and influenced how well they would do during challenges with and against their partners.

Before the game, participants were asked to predict what their partners said during a personality test and whether they believed they would cooperate or behave selfishly during the game. Those who have previously engaged in conversation can accurately predict their partner’s personality, especially if they are extroverted or introverted.

Participants were given £20 to contribute to a communal pot during a game called “Public Goods”. The researchers say that a common rational strategy for an individual player is to contribute nothing in hopes of getting money from their partner without contributing their own. However, participants who had previously engaged in small talk contributed 30 percent more than those who did not.

“We find that for players who engage in small talk with their partner, cooperation in public goods games increases when the partner is perceived as extraverted,” the study’s authors wrote in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

The researchers theorize that participants who believe their partners may be more extroverted may have their own bias to believe their own extroverted personality is reflected in those they meet.

“Perceptions about extroversion may be colored by a complementary self-projection bias that makes extroverts prone to attribute their extroversion or positive affect to those they interact with,” the study authors wrote.

During the second game, which measured competition between participants, the players had to ask the researchers for money between 11 and 20 pounds.

They were then asked to guess how much their partners asked for and if they guessed a pound less than themselves, they would be paid extra. The researchers found that those who rated themselves as or equally extroverted with their partners had a harder time estimating how much money they asked for after engaging in a conversation.

Ultimately, the researchers say that while small interactions with each other may seem insignificant, they can potentially help us understand our different personalities and improve our interactions.

“Through brief, seemingly trivial interactions with others we become better able to predict the personalities of the people we talk to, thereby increasing our performance when we interact with them in the future,” the study’s authors said in a press release.

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