Meaningful conversations more fulfilling than small talk, researchers find
FRIDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- Small talk has its place as a social lubricant, but more meaningful conversations are what really make people happy, new research suggests.
"Small talk does have a function," said study author Matthias Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "For smooth social functioning, we need small talk."
But those who also have meaningful conversations -- what Mehl calls "substantive" talks -- are happier, he has found. "What really connects you to people is substantive, meaningful conversation rather than small talk."
"It doesn't have to be all about philosophy or the afterlife, it just has to have substance," he said.
For the study, Mehl equipped 79 college men and women with a portable device called an electronically activated recorder (EAR), which periodically records snippets of conversation as the wearers follow their normal routine. Every 12.5 minutes, the device samples 30 seconds of sounds.
Over four days' time, that totaled more than 23,000 recordings, or about 300 per participant.
Mehl's team listened to the recordings, classifying the conversations as small talk or substantive conversation.
For instance, small talk: "What do you have there? Popcorn? Yummy!" But the conversation that went like this was substantive: "She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?"
Participants took tests to evaluate their personality and their well-being.
Those who reported the higher levels of well-being, Mehl found, spent less time alone and more time talking to others. When he compared the unhappiest participants with the happiest, he found the happiest spent about 25 percent less time alone -- 58.7 percent of their time vs. 76.8 percent. They also spent about 70 percent more time talking -- 39.7
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