200 milliseconds isn’t long enough


Conversation … the hidden science


200 milliseconds is the average length of pause between speakers in conversation. So you might say, “I know this really cool science blog, Sciencia Potentia Est” and nearly exactly 200 milliseconds afterwards your friend says, “That’s really awesome, I might check it out!”

It’s been measured across cultures, languages, age groups and more, and comes up as nearly always exactly 200. If it’s too fast you seem too much in hurry to say ‘your bit’, longer and you appear indecisive. But the most fascinating part of this is that it takes more than 200 milliseconds for your brain to completely process the previous speaker’s words. In fact, it takes 600 milliseconds to remember a word and get ready to say it and over 1500 for a short phrase.

“It takes more than 200 milliseconds for your brain to process and respond to the previous speaker’s conclusion”

The solution? We have two!


Powers of Prediction

First go-to is simple. Know what you’re going to say beforehand so that you don’t require several important seconds to think about it, because if you wait that long, you’ve lost your spot in the conversation. Our brains are pretty awesome in that we can tell from a person’s tone, grammar and language when they’re getting close to stopping and begin already planning the first words we’re planning to say. So really, every time you speak, you haven’t really been listening fully and you can hope your friend didn’t suddenly change their meaning right at the end because your brain won’t catch up until you’ve uttered the first phrase of your turn!


Filler Words

Never say ‘um’ and ‘ah’ right? Or not. They’re really important in reserving your spot in the conversation. You know you want to say something but haven’t quite worked it out yet so you say, “Oh yeah, ah, yeah that blog, I loved the post about relativity, it made so much sense to me!”. In doing so, you’ve only paused 200 milliseconds, but used extra of your speaking time to complete processing your response!

Anyway, I just think this whole topic of conversation is really interesting, how we pick up on subtle social cues in order to make sure we get our bit said. And believe me, it will make you extremely self conscious in all further conversations today. Just remember, average speaking time is about 2 seconds with a 200 millisecond gap!


More reading can be found here and here


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