Couples communicate no better than strangers

Houston: If married couples live with the illusion that they communicate better with their partners may now get a shock following a study that says they do not convey messages as well as they think and in some cases, the spouses communicate no better than strangers.

The same communication problem also is true with close friends, a recent study has found.

"People believe that they communicate better with close friends than with strangers. That closeness can lead people to overestimate how well they communicate, a phenomenon we term the `closeness-communication bias`," said Boaz Keysar, a professor in psychology at the University of Chicago and a leading expert on communications.

Keysar`s colleague Kenneth Savitsky, professor of psychology at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., devised an experiment resembling a parlor game to study the issue.

In it, two sets of couples sat on chairs with their backs to each other and tried to discern the meaning of each other`s ambiguous phrases. 24 married couples participated in the experiment.

The researchers used common phrases to see if the spouses were better at understanding phrases from their partners than from people they did not know.

"A wife who says to her husband, `it`s getting hot in here`, as a hint for her husband to turn up the air conditioning a notch, may be surprised when he interprets her statement as a coy, amorous advance instead," said Savitsky, who is lead author of the paper, "The Closeness-Communications Bias: Increased Egocentrism among Friends versus Strangers".

The paper was published in the January issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

"Although speakers expected their spouse to understand them better than strangers, accuracy rates for spouses and strangers were statistically identical. This result is striking because speakers were more confident that they were understood by their spouse," Savitsky said.

"Some couples may indeed be on the same wavelength, but maybe not as much as they think," he said.

Savitsky conducted a similar experiment with 60 Williams College students.