Before you post your controversial hot take in your office chat group, choose your setting wisely and consider the medium. A new study in Psychological Science found that we respond differently to opposing opinions we read over those that we hear.
In short: If you want your sparring partner to see you as an an intellect of rational logic and sophistication — qualities that can hopefully persuade them to believe your wild opinion — try saying it out loud to them.
In a series of experiments, researchers recruited participants who held opposing views on women’s reproductive rights, war, and politics and had participants rate how they felt about the human behind the opposing take. To evaluate those feelings, researchers told participants to rate the extent to which the other speaker was “refined and cultured,” “rational and logical,” was “like an adult, not a child,” acted “mechanical and cold, like a robot,” and seemed “less than human, like an animal.”
Whether they heard the opinion through video or audio didn’t make a significant difference in judgment — but reading the opinion did. When evaluators heard a participant who disagreed with them, they thought the person was significantly more mentally capable of thought than when they read the same opinion in text form.
In other words, the opposition’s perceived humanity depended on the medium of communication.
Study: Opinions heard feel more thoughtful than opinions read
Why do we see our opposition more clearly as human beings through voice over words? Perhaps because those vocal tics of inflection, intonation, and normal pauses humanize us in ways that get lost over a text message where emotion is implied in emoji and punctuation, and tone is easy to miscommunicate.
“Our experiments demonstrate that a person’s voice reveals something more fundamental: the presence of a humanlike mind capable of thinking and feeling,” the study states. “If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person’s voice to be heard.”
What you can do
When two people get into an argument, there’s a tendency to start seeing the opposing speaker as an enemy to denigrate and defeat. They’re no longer a rational human like you, they’re the other side.
This study suggests that there’s something that you can easily do to bridge that gap. If you want your controversial take to be seen as more than mindless drivel, get off your keyboard and give the person a call.