For many people, their communication skills with loved ones are not as strong as they think. In fact, spouses sometimes communicate with each other no better than strangers do, a new study suggests.
"People commonly believe that they communicate better with close friends than with strangers. That closeness can lead people to overestimate how well they communicate, a phenomenon we term the 'closeness-communication bias,'" said study co-author Boaz Keysar, a professor in psychology at the University of Chicago.
In the study, researchers asked 24 married couples to take part in an experiment in which two sets of couples sat in chairs -- with their backs to each other -- and tried to figure out the meaning of phrases that had multiple interpretations.
The spouses thought they communicated better than they actually did, the study authors noted.
Communication between couples
"A wife who says to her husband, 'it's getting hot in here,' as a hint for her husband to turn up the air conditioning a notch, may be surprised when he interprets her statement as a coy, amorous advance instead," said study author Kenneth Savitsky, professor of psychology at Williams College in Williamstown.
"Although speakers expected their spouse to understand them better than strangers, accuracy rates for spouses and strangers were statistically identical. This result is striking because speakers were more confident that they were understood by their spouse."
According to Savitsky, "Some couples may indeed be on the same wavelength, but maybe not as much as they think. You get rushed and preoccupied, and you stop taking the perspective of the other person, precisely because the two of you are so close."
Study co-author Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, explained the differences this way: "Our problem in communicating with friends and spouses is that we have an illusion of insight. Getting close to someone appears to create the illusion of understanding more than actual understanding."
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