The science of conversation: What psychology students need to know

Assumption College Undergraduate

 Assumption Bachelor’s in Psychology students learn the “science of talk
You may have heard conversation referred to as an art form, but what about as a science?

In a recent Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) talk, British psychologist and conversation analyst Elizabeth Stokoe discussed the “science of talk” and the strategy behind effective communication.

As an expert in conversation analysis, Stokoe shares that a simple pause in conversation — the “uh-huhs”, the “wells” and the “ums” — that we oftentimes don’t give a second thought, mean something.

“Conversation is highly systematic and organized … and it tells us an incredible amount about the power of language to shape our daily lives,” explains Stokoe.

There is importance in the words you choose.

Stokoe references a study conducted by conversation analysts, John Heritage and Jeffery Robinson, on increasing effectiveness in conversation between doctor and patient.

The study found that patients were leaving doctors appointments feeling that they were unable to voice all concerns and oftentimes having to return for a second visit. Researchers discovered that the problem lies in the way doctors were asking the question, “is there anything else we need to take care of today?” at the end of the visit.

Findings showed that when doctors changed the word “anything” in that phrase to “something”, there was a statistically significant increase in patient-reported concerns, showing that word choice matters.

In an article, Stokoe highlights several evidence-based studies when not only the choice of word, but where you place a word or phrase within a conversation matters as well.

One example she uses is that of a sales call. Through her research Stokoe has discovered that when sales people ask the question, “how did you hear about us?” at the end of the call as opposed to the beginning, it receives a much better reaction from the recipient.

Assumption Bachelor’s in psychology students can learn more about the psychology of conversation through the course, PSY 220: Interpersonal Communication.

Through this course, students examine the process through which people collaboratively construct shared understanding in conversation, as well as how our ideas about ourselves and others are shaped and expressed through our dialogue.

Students in PSY 220 will learn to distinguish effective communication patterns from problematic patterns through various readings, discussions and exercises – a skill set that is useful to any area of their personal and professional life.

Watch Dr. Elizabeth Stokoe’s full TED talk, “The science of analyzing conversations, second by second,” below.

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