What is it about?

Only 2% of conversations end when both people want them to. This is because people want to leave at different times, and because they don't know when their partner wants to leave. Overall, conversation presents a coordination problem that people fail to solve.

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Why is it important?

Conversation is the building block of all social life. Psychologists are just beginning to understand how it works, and our work identifies the coordination problem at its core.


I got the idea for this study one night when I was getting ready for a party and thinking to myself, "I don't want to go to this party because inevitably I'm going to be talking to someone and feel ready to move on, and there's no polite way to do that." But then I thought, "What makes me so special? What if we're both stuck talking to each other because we mistakenly think the other person wants to keep going?". It turns out that does happen pretty often, but also plenty of conversations end before either person wants them to.

Adam Mastroianni
Harvard University

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This page is a summary of: Do conversations end when people want them to?, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2011809118.
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