Spoken opinions are more effective than written ones, UC Berkeley study finds

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Those Facebook and Twitter feuds are not as effective at changing your mind as listening to those you disagree with, a new UC Berkeley study suggests.

Juliana Schroeder, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, conducted a series of experiments that showed that using speech to communicate rather than writing can make your ideas seem more reasonable to people with opposing opinions. The study was published Oct. 25 in the journal Psychological Science.

“The idea is that having more rich information about a person and particularly hearing the sound of their voice gives you some more insight into what they’re thinking, and it makes them seem more thoughtful, rational and logical,” Schroeder said.

The experiments involved exposing volunteers to a series of controversial ideas about issues such as abortion, war and music genres over multiple mediums —  including visual, audio and written expression.

The participants were then told to evaluate the person who presented the controversial idea. The study found that individuals with opposing opinions were often dehumanized and seen as possessing a weakened ability to think. However, individuals that were exposed to audio or video footage were less dismissive of the speaker that they disagreed with.

Schroeder also explained that while both audio and video footage led to less dehumanization on the part of the participant, the correlation seemed to be specific to the sound rather than the visual cues. She said that this indicates that the humanizing part of the speech may be specific to the tone of voice, rather than the recognition of the speaker as a human.

“What we think is going on is that the voice kind of brings the voice alive, and it imbues them with thought and feeling,” Schroeder said. “And people are using that as an indicator that the person is someone that is thinking and feeling.”

For the study, Schroeder collaborated with two researchers from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business: professor Nicholas Epley and doctoral student Michael Kardas.

The researchers say this data might suggest that the medium through which people communicate may systematically influence the way they perceive and judge each other.

“The tendency to denigrate the minds of the opposition may be tempered by giving them, quite literally, a voice,” the study states in the abstract.

To evaluate the extent of this effect, Schroeder said the next step is to examine live human interactions rather than recorded speeches or messages expressing opinions.

“What I’m doing now is I’m running these experiments by having people actually talk to each other rather than typing to each other,” Schroeder said. “It’s interesting to think what would happen if you actually had an interaction.”

Contact Phil Zhang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @philzhangDC.

A previous headline for this article incorrectly stated that the study reviewed verbal opinions. In fact, it reviewed spoken opinions.