Gus Cooney.

Welcome to my


My research questions

a science of conversation

We spend all day having conversations that affect our health, happiness, and careers. Despite the ubiquity and importance of conversation, a surprising number of fundamental scientific questions remain unanswered, and this is what my research agenda aspires to change.

Basic Empirical Findings

Much of my research focuses on two fundamenetal goals of conversations – transmitting information and maintaining relationships and – and how balancing these goals has profound effects on many aspects of conversational behavior.

Conversational norms

I have explored how conversations are conspiracies of politeness that prevent people from realizing how much their conversation partners like them and continue to think about them after they talk. (liking gap) (liking gap in teams) (thought gap)

Conversational coordination problems

My research has examined conversational endings, and why people often end conversations in puzzling ways, such as exiting too early or going on too long (endings)

Conversational errors

I have looked at how people make systematic errors of topic choice in conversation, such as talking too much about novel and extraordinary experiences when listeners would prefer to hear about familiar and ordinary ones. (novelty penalty) (extraordinary experiences)

Applied Research

Inspired by my time teaching at the Wharton School, i am passionate about applying insights from basic conversation research to issues facing society and organizations.

For Example

I have designed interventions to encourage people to strike up conversations with strangers, which despite the social benefits, people are surprisingly reluctant to do (scavenger hunt)

I am interested in applying insights from conversation research to help people improve their negotiation skills (annual review)

Finally, I am studying how people often underestimate the extent to which their colleagues are interested in talking – particularly across group divides such as age, race, and sociocultural background – which may prevent us from developing more diverse networks (homophily)


I have written about the differences between group and dyadic conversation, and why they can sometimes feel like entirely different activities (groups)

For Example

I am also writing a review chapter, which synthesizes the wide-ranging interdisciplinary history of conversation research, to encourage a greater appreciation of exquisite coordination that lies at the heart of conversation – of turns, minds, and goals – which will hopefully foster new research and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries (handbook)

Data & Methods

I co-directed a multi-year effort to release a large dataset of naturalistic conversation, the CANDOR corpus- created using a computational pipeline of our own design, a suite of machine learning algorithms, and sheer grit to offer an incredibly rich portrait of conversation (candor)

This project was a labor of love, born of the belief that a true science of conversation will require large datasets, new methods, and a community of scholars coming together with different perspectives and ideas.

Future projects

Three projects I am hard at work on:

  1. A Bayesian belief-updating framework to explain people’s pessimistic beliefs about initial conversations.
  2. Uncovering new conversational norms, such as those that govern how speakers repeat stories and information to multiple listeners.
  3. How people’s mistaken beliefs about early conversations may impact important organizational outcome.

Interests & hobbies

Embarking on adventures through skiing, immersing myself in diverse cultures through rugs and textiles, and finding serenity in the art of surfing – these are the passion that shape my life.