Nav: Home

Why even close associates sometimes have trouble communicating

February 23, 2007

Particularly among close associates, sharing even a little new information can slow down communication

Some of people's biggest problems with communication come in sharing new information with people they know well, newly published research at the University of Chicago shows.

Because they already share quite a bit of common knowledge, people often use short, ambiguous messages in talking with co-workers and spouses, and accordingly unintentionally create misunderstandings, said Boaz Keysar, Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

"People are so used to talking with those with whom they already share a great deal of information, that when they have something really new to share, they often present it in away that assumes the person already knows it," said Keysar, who with graduate student Shali Wu tested Keysar's communication theories and presented the results in an article, "The Effect of Information Overlap on Communication Effectiveness," published in the current issue of Cognitive Science.

"Sharing additional information reduces communication effectiveness precisely when there is an opportunity to inform--when people communicate information only they themselves know," the researchers said.

In order to test the theory, the two created a communications game in which parties had unequal amounts of information. They prepared line drawings of unusual shapes and gave them made-up names and then trained University of Chicago students to recognize different numbers of the shapes.

During the game students were tested to see how well they could communicate to a partner the identity of one of the shapes. Students, who with their partners shared a great deal of knowledge about the shapes, used names more often in identifying the shapes while students who didn't have a great knowledge of the shapes described the shapes rather than naming them.

The students were more likely to confuse the partners they shared more information with because they would automatically use the name of a shape rather than the description, assuming that their partner would know what they were talking about, when in reality he or she didn't recognize the name.

The use of unknown names slowed communication, just as the use of unknown information slows communication in real life. The researchers found that people who shared more information were twice as likely to ask for clarification as those who shared less information.

In real life situations, the assumptions people make about what another person knows has many consequences, Keysar said. Doctors, for instance, often communicate quickly with each other and may miscommunication because they don't realize the other physician is getting new information when they are discussing a treatment program, he suggested.

On a professional level, brief e-mails between colleagues can cause miscommunication, Keysar has learned from personal experience. "I once was scheduled to speak and had gotten the day of my talk mixed up. I received an e-mail from the host asking me if I was ok. I wrote back and said I was and didn't find out until later that what he really wanted to know was where I was, as they were waiting for me to talk," Keysar said.
-end-
Embargoed for release Feb 23, 2007, 12:15 a.m.

University of Chicago

Related Communication Articles:

Video is not always effective in science communication
What we can learn for online public relations: - Keep the information concise so that one can go thorough it within about 1 minute.
Ultraviolet communication to transform Army networks
Of ever-increasing concern for operating a tactical communications network is the possibility that a sophisticated adversary may detect friendly transmissions.
Adding noise for completely secure communication
How can we protect communications against 'eavesdropping' if we don't trust the devices used in the process?
How serotonin balances communication within the brain
Our brain is steadily engaged in soliloquies. These internal communications are usually also bombarded with external sensory events.
Breaking the communication code
Ever wonder how mice talk to each other. We don't have a dictionary quite yet, but UD neuroscientist Josh Neunuebel and his lab have linked mice chatter (their ultrasonic vocalizations) with specific behaviors.
A new twist on quantum communication in fiber
New research done at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Huazhang University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, has exciting implications for secure data transfer across optical fiber networks.
Study traces evolution of acoustic communication
A study tracing acoustic communication across the tree of life of land-living vertebrates reveals that the ability to vocalize goes back hundreds of millions of years, is associated with a nocturnal lifestyle and has remained stable.
Should preschool writing be more communication and less ABCs?
Writing instruction in early education should be about more than letter formation and penmanship, argue Michigan State University researchers who found preschool teachers don't often encourage writing for communication purposes.
Trump's Twitter communication style shifted over time based on varying communication goals
The linguistic and discursive style of Donald Trump's tweets varied systematically before, during, and after the 2016 presidential campaign, depending on the communicative goals of Trump and his team, according to a study published Sept.
Intercultural communication crucial for engineering education
In an increasingly connected world it helps to engage with other cultures without prejudice or assumption.
More Communication News and Communication Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.