People who respond to a question after a slight pause are seen as more introverted compared to those who offer an immediate response, according to a series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The new research provides evidence that this phenomenon can have real-world consequences for job interview success.
“Humans are remarkable creatures when it comes to being lazy and judging books by their covers instead of actually reading them,” said study author Deming (Adam) Wang, a senior lecturer in psychology at James Cook University Singapore.
“Many of these mental shortcuts can lead to inaccurate judgements in our social lives. For example, religiously believing what someone says just because that someone is a famous figure rather than because what they said was objectively high in veracity and quality could lead to biased and inaccurate opinions on important matters in life.”
“Similarly, people rely on superficial cues such as response timing when judging others’ trait characteristics, and it is important to bring such mental tendencies to light so that people are more aware of how they make inferences about others, and whether that is the appropriate thing to do in all settings.”
To explore the relationship between delayed social responses and perceived introversion, Wang and his colleagues conducted 14 different studies, which included 5,160 participants in total.
A similar methodology was used across the studies. Participants either read a scenario about, listened to audio of, or watched a video of a person responding to a question. The person either responded to the question immediately or the person briefly paused (up to six seconds) before responding. The scenarios involved several different situations, including small-talk and job interviews. In addition, the responses ranged from one-word answers to lengthy deliberated answers.
The researchers found that nervousness and passivity mediated the link between response times and perceived introversion. In other words, those with a delayed response were perceived as more nervous and more passive, and those who were perceived as more nervous and more passive were in turn perceived as more introverted.
Perceived cognitive load also moderated the relationship between response times and perceived introversion. A four second delay in responding was less likely to lead to judgements of introversion when the person was mentally occupied with another task, compared to when the person was not mentally occupied.
“The study showed that people who respond to questions after a pause are seen as nervous and socially passive, and hence judged as more introverted. So if this is not the type of demeanor you want to exude, then it is best to be swift when interacting with others, in which case you would be seen as more extraverted,” Wang told PsyPost.
“Interestingly, we found that response timing could have a role to play in job interviews such that faster responders are seen as more extraverted and are more likely to be hired for social jobs (such as a salesperson) and slower responders are seen as more introverted and are actually preferred over faster responders for solitary jobs (such as an admin job).”
The researchers noted that responding after four vs. two seconds was enough to engender a significant difference in perceived introversion.
“From a bigger picture perspective, the key takeaway could be that people tend to be very much reliant on various inconspicuous bits of information when making social decisions and judgements,” Wang explained, “and that while this may be rooted in experience and not completely baseless, it is also important to exercise more caution and think more analytically (rather than intuitively) when the stakes are high.”
“For instance, a job interview candidate wearing a nice suit, tie, and being well groomed may give off the impressions of competence and confidence, but should our judgements of these important characteristics be influenced by such features to any significant extent? Probably not.”
For most of the studies, the participants were recruited from two crowdsourcing platforms: Prolific and Amazon Mechanical Turk. But the researchers also replicated the findings among student participants from a Singaporean and an Australian university.
But do response times actually provide information about a person’s level of introversion? That is still unclear. “We did not measure accuracy of judgements, so it is yet to be determined just how accurate people are at judging extraversion from response timing,” Wang said. “The prediction, based on research in this literature, is that people are generally more accurate than chance, but not as accurate as they believe or hope to be.”
The study, “Faster Responders are Perceived as more Extraverted“, was authored by Deming Wang and Ignazio Ziano.