If you've ever read any kind of online comments section, or just ever used Twitter, you'll know that arguing online is mostly pointless. No one online listens; no ground is ever conceded. Instead, writing about the various merits of any particular position is a distant priority to just insulting each other—and that seems to just be the internet of 2017.
Only maybe it's not. Because a new study suggests it's not the arguments or the internet that is the problem. The problem is that when arguments appear in writing, we can't get a sense of the "humanlike mind" of that person. But on the other hand, if we watch video or listen to the voice of someone making an argument, we'll often think they're okay even if we disagree, just because we got a sense of who they are.
The study is titled "The Humanising Voice: Speech Reveals, and Text Conceals, a More Thoughtful Mind in the Midst of Disagreement" and comes from collaboration between business schools at Berkeley and Chicago Universities. There, researchers video-recorded six people explaining their opinions on three hot-button issues: the US war in Afghanistan, abortion, and whether rap or country music is better. These opinions were then distributed to a group of people asked to gauge how compelling they found the arguments. Some of these "evaluators" received the full video recording, others just the audio, and others received only a written transcript.
Evaluators were then asked whether they thought the people making the arguments seemed "refined and cultured," "rational and logical," and "like an adult, not a child." They were also asked how likable the communicators seemed, on a sliding scale starting with "superficial" and ending with "mechanical and cold, like a robot."
The results showed that the style of communication mattered most when the evaluator disagreed with the argument. Because even if they disagreed, they could often still rate the person as "emotional, responsive, warm," so long as they were watching or listening to the argument. But when evaluators received an disagreeable argument only in text form, they often ended up disliking the person making the argument.
Another two different experiments produced similar results. This time, communicators explained why they supported a particular candidate in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Again the evaluators felt better about people whose political positions they disagreed with, so long as they received arguments in audio or video format. Communicators who presented their arguments as written transcripts were again judged as unlikeable.
As the study concluded, intonation and pitch in people's speech was the most significant factor. Because as the paper explains, "existing research demonstrates that cues in speech increase accurate understanding of mental states, [but] our experiments demonstrate that a person's voice reveals something more fundamental: the presence of a humanlike mind capable of thinking and feeling."
So next time you're about to Tweet at someone in all-caps, just remember: the other person doesn't know you, and therefore isn't aware that you possess "a humanlike mind capable of thinking and feeling." And without hearing your humanlike voice, they'll just assume you're an idiot.
As the researchers concluded, "If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person's voice to be heard."