09 April 2021

Quick Responses More Sincere

Welcome back. When I was young or at least younger, I was normally able to respond quickly to most questions. These days, people may have to give me some slack.

Does response speed really matter? In a recent study, researchers affiliated with France’s Grenoble Ecole de Management and Australia’s James Cook University conducted 14 experiments involving 7,565 participants to prove that it does.

When people pause before replying, even for just a few seconds, their answers seem less sincere, less credible than if they replied immediately. Slower responses are perceived as taking time to fabricate an answer while suppressing the truth.

Are you lying or do you just respond slowly?
(Graphic from Walt Disney Productions)
Now, if you’re asking me what was done in the study, I’ll try to respond as quickly as I can.

Experimental Design
Participants in the experiments included U.S. or U.K. adults enlisted via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or Prolific as well as one experiment with French students.

The notion that slower responses are thought less sincere is predicated on the delays attributed to a cognitive process related to lying. Nevertheless, the researchers recognized and allowed that response delays might be due to other factors, e.g., mental effort or digging to find socially desirable responses. For instance, people often downplay resentment at being asked a favor or they try to cover materialistic with positive values.

The experiments thus included audio, video and vignette stimuli, testing the perceived response sincerity across different response speeds, actors and scenarios; whether slower responders would be judged guilty of serious or trivial crimes; if the sincerity judgement is weaker when attributed to mental effort; and even if the sincerity judgement is weaker when participants are instructed to ignore response speed.

When participants were instructed to ignore response speed, the perceived sincerity and guilt judgment was reduced though not eliminated (from www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspa0000250.pdf).
Example Experiments
The initial experiment tested the sincerity judgement using audio stimuli with 1,133 MTurk participants (57% male).

Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 6 response speeds from 0 to 10 seconds. For each speed, they listened to 4 audio snippets--2 with male actors, 2 with female, 2 snippets pertaining to a taste preference scenario, 2 snippets to a money theft scenario. For each speed and situation, the question and answer were the same, replying either “Yes I did” to liking the taste or “No I didn’t” to the theft. After each audio snippet, participants rated the responder’s sincerity from 1 to 7.

One variation of the initial experiment used video stimuli with 562 MTurk participants (52% female) to test whether slower responders were more likely to be judged guilty of an accused crime.

Participants were randomly assigned to hear either a fast or slow response. Each was shown 2 videos of police interrogating a man or woman accused of stealing a few thousand dollars. In the fast condition, after the police officer asked, “Did you steal the money?”, the suspect immediately replied, “No, I didn’t!” In the slow condition, the suspect replied after a delay of about 5 seconds. After each video, participants rated the suspect’s sincerity from 1 to 7 and whether they thought the suspect was guilty (yes/no).

Wrap Up
Across all experiments, participants consistently rated delayed responses as less sincere. As expected, however, certain conditions reduced the effect. For example, if the answer was considered socially undesirable, such as saying “No" when a friend asks if you like their cake, the response was considered sincere whether fast or slow. Similarly, if participants thought a slower response was due to mental effort, such as recalling the theft of candy 10 years earlier, response speed had a smaller effect. 

Response speed affected sincerity judgments when the response was socially desirable (e.g., telling your friend you like the cake he or she made), but speed hardly mattered when the response was socially undesirable (e.g., telling your friend you don’t like the cake) (from www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspa0000250.pdf).
The lead researcher notes that the study results apply to a wide range of interactions--workplace chit-chat, couples bickering, job interviews, court trials. Though it may seem unfair when a response is delayed by distraction or being thoughtful, delaying for even a couple of seconds may be considered a slow lie.

Did you learn much? (Answer quickly.) Thanks for stopping by.

Study on response speed perception in Jour. of Personality and Social Psychology: www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspa0000250.pdf
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-02/apa-aqt021121.php

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