Social media has made it easier than ever to find people with whom we disagree. And if there ever was the perfect kindling to add to the fire that is toxic online comment threads, it was the 2016 presidential election. No matter your candidate, you’ve probably witnessed someone on the other side try to justify their position online in a way that made you think they were, well, incredibly stupid.
But new research suggests you might not be so harsh if you were to hear that person’s same explanation offline in their real voice.
In the study published in Psychological Science, researchers Juliana Schroeder, Michael Kardas and Nicholas Epley found that the mediums through which we interact with each other significantly affect how we form impressions about other people. In short, we’re more likely to humanize people—and perceive them as more thoughtful, intelligent, rational, and humanlike—when we hear their voice.
A sample from the Big Think YouTube comments section.
An experiment the researchers conducted before the 2016 U.S. presidential election illustrates this point. They asked 10 Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters to explain why they prefer whichever candidate through two mediums: a written explanation and a spoken one in front of a camera.
Then, researchers asked 850 evaluators with varying political orientations to rate supporters’ mental capacities—how rational, reasonable, and intellectually capable they seemed—after watching videos of their explanations, listening to the audio, reading the transcript, or reading a written explanation.
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