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An informative piece by our neighbour Sarah who looks at the facts, themes and fascination of conversation.

Would you rather have a conversation with another human, or listen to one speak? Do you find yourself engaging more when chatting in a group? Are you dozing off in those long meetings or when a lecturer stands up in front of you for an hour? Connecting with others through language is a weird, wonderful thing. Most of us experience the joy of conversation everyday, but have you ever thought about why it's so great? Let’s delve deeper.

Years and years ago some great brains got together to create this idea called “conversation theory”. The basic concept is that humans learn through conversations. When we have an opinion on a topic, or an idea of how something might be described, it’s interesting to voice that opinion. When voicing it to another person, their history / upbringing / environment and all sorts of factors may lead them to having different opinions and explanations for things. This is where the tool of language comes in; our opinions are challenged and strengthened - when compared to others. This might seem pretty straightforward, but the research behind it is all kinds of crazy and interesting.

A big area this research has emerged is in the self-help field – “how to be a good conversationalist”, “how to make conversions work for you”, “how to talk to my crush” etc. etc. However, these are kinda moot points – conversations are subjective right? And how could you ever predict one?

One psychologist tried to manipulate the research on conversations to devise a list of questions to ask on a first date to make someone fall in love with you. The 36-item list included questions such as “would you like to be famous”, “what is your most treasured memory”, and “when did you last cry in front of someone”. Before you look away, this study actually paired a couple that later became engaged. So does that mean these magic 36 questions work? Well maybe?

Basically these questions drew out vulnerability in the participants – something that is really difficult for a lot of us. Games like ‘we’re not really strangers’ have become popular for playing on this idea, fostering a connection with strangers, makes you … well, not strangers anymore. You realise your similarities and differences with another human through language and realise, that well yeah, we’re not all too different after all. This is probably why these questions worked for this couple. Maybe all you need to do is be vulnerable with the right person, talk through your emotions and opinions and a bit of magic will happen.

It’s interesting to reflect on how we came to be where we are in society today, and how big of a role language has played. There are over 7,000 known languages in the world, yet communication is always possible. Talk to your friends, your family, strangers. There’s people out there in the world right now who will have a huge impact on your life. They could be your future lover, best friend, mentor. They could say hello to you on your way to the supermarket after you’ve had a really bad day and simply make you smile. These connections, both future and present, are only possible through language. So let’s relish it, swim in its beauty and be thankful everyday.

Written by Sarah McGruddy:

Otago University Alumni - Neuroscience

and Psychology.

Check Sarah out here:




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