Cooney, G* Boothby, E.J.* Lee, M.I. (2021) The thought gap after conversation: underestimating the frequency of others’ thoughts about us. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General. 151, 1069.
During conversation, people forgo all the possible things they could be thinking about to devote their thoughts to another person. This ability to make another person the sole focus of one’s thoughts is one of the many reasons why conversation is such a successful device for the formation and maintenance of social relationships. After conversations are over, however, people are put in the difficult psychological position of no longer having access to others’ thoughts, while still knowing exactly how much they are thinking about others. This appears to cause people to systematically underestimate the extent to which they remain on their conversation partners’ minds after conversations, which we documented across eight experiments.
This “thought gap” ultimately obscures a basic truth: After interactions with friends, romantic partners, colleagues, and new acquaintances, when you call to mind your conversation partner, on average, they do the same about you. Just as our conversation partners echo in our minds, we echo in theirs. But because other people’s thoughts remain hidden from us, the impact we have on our conversation partners remains greater than we know. Together with the liking gap, this work reveals that people appear overly pessimistic about the valence and frequency of their partner’s thoughts after a conversation