When Does Silence Become Awkward?

Silence becomes awkward after approximately four seconds, research shows. People who view a video clip in which a four-second silence has been inserted into a conversation report higher instances of low self-esteem and anxiety than those who view a video clip without the breaks in conversation. Researchers believe that people might associate feelings of awkwardness with silence because not receiving a response signals rejection by their peer group. In prehistoric times, social rejection might have meant death, because people needed to be in a group to survive, so it is thought that humans have an inherent desire to be accepted.

More about silence:

  • In some countries, such as Japan and Mexico, people who are silent are generally viewed as more trustworthy than those who speak more often.

  • The scientific theory known as the “20 minutes after the hour” effect states that human beings in crowds are collectively silent every 20 minutes after the hour as a result of their ancestors needing to regularly listen for danger.

  • Children who go to schools in quiet environments have been found to have greater reading skills than those in noisy environments, because noise is thought to interrupt long-term memory formation.

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