2x2 Views on Conversations

1: In groups of three it happens that two people start talking about a topic knowing that the third person is not interested in and has nothing to contribute to it. Some people think this is rude and it is hence o.k. if the third person complains about it (A). Other people think it's o.k. and it is rude if the third person complains about it (B).

2: When a first person tells a second person about a serious personal problem that s/he has and that not a lot can be done about, sometimes the second person will tell the first about having been in a similar situation, what s/he felt about that, etc. Some people think this is a welcome attempt by the second person to relate to the first person's problem, show her/him s/he's not alone, etc. (A). Other people think this is a sign that the second person is self-centred, shows no real interest in the first person's well-being, etc. (B).

You can consider this a pitfall warning.

Hypothesis (i.e., blatant generalization of casual observations in conjunction with the use of stereotypes): In both cases, the female-to-male ratio will be above 1 in group A and below 1 in group B.


Acilius said...

It would be interesting to design an experiment to test your hypotheses. If you did so, I think you would have to take several variables into account. Consider two extreme scenarios.

Scenario 1. A has been seeking B out because B is the only person who can help A with a particular question. A has met B, but has not yet had a chance to raise the question, when C joins them unexpectedly. C begins making idle conversation. A turns to C, explains the situation, and asks C's permission to raise the question. C grants permission. A raises the question with B. A and B discuss the question, making occasional attempts to offer explanations to C.

Scenario 2. A sees B and C. B and C are a married couple. B was once a chess champion, and has just been released from prison. C knows nothing about chess, in fact hates any mention of the game, but loves B intensely and is overjoyed to be reuntied with B. A walks up to them, stands between them, faces B, ignoring C, and asks B one question after another about technical matters relating to chess.

Now I suspect that there would be very little variation between male and female respondents asked to evaluate the behavior of A in these two cases! But it would be a challenge to construct more closely balanced cases.

LemmusLemmus said...

Your scenarios are extreme indeed. I was thinking of run-of-the-mill situations that contain nobody having just been released from prison, hating a certain topic or asking permission to discuss topic X. That's what the hypotheses are supposed to apply to. I agree that in a serious social psychology article such underlying assumptions should be made explicit.

Acilius said...

To be sure. I think that among the first questions we should ask in constructing more balanced cases is: What level of attention does each party to the conversation have a right to expect to receive from the other two parties?

In scenario 1, A has need of B's expertise and may have a right to expect that B will give his or her undivided attention to a question within that expertise. C, meanwhile, has a right to expect that A and B will formally acknowledgement his or her presence, but may not have a right to expect more than that.

In scenario 2, it is doubtful that A has a right to expect even that B and C will formally acknowledge his or her presence. B and C, meanwhile, have the right to expect intense attention from one another. If for whatever reason B is required to pay attention to any third person, C has a right to expect that third person also to pay attention to C. By A's attempt to claim B's undivided attention and his failure to pay attention to C, A is doing an injustice to B and C.