Listening quality reduces loneliness through relatedness and autonomy
Recently, Itzchakov et al. (2023) examined the influence of listening quality on feelings of loneliness, especially in people who have shared an experience of social rejection. The researchers expected that high-quality listening, defined as behavior that conveys attention, understanding, and positive intentions, would have several positive effects on the person telling about the painful experience.
Background of the research
Social rejection can lead to intense loneliness, emotional and physical stress, and even depression. The researchers conducted this study with the hypothesis that active and empathetic listening can give the speaker a sense of relatedness and autonomy, reducing the psychological impact of sharing an experience of rejection.
Study 1: The influence of listening quality
In this study, 242 Israeli students watched videos in which a speaker shared an experience of social rejection with a listener. There were three conditions with different levels of listening comprehension:
- High-quality listening involved constant eye contact, nonverbal responses and expressions of interest, and open-ended, reflective questions.
- At medium listening quality, there was predominantly eye contact and minimal interruption, with some nonverbal responses.
- With low listening quality, little eye contact was made, the listener seemed distracted, and did not respond verbally or nonverbally.
Afterwards, the researchers asked the participants to imagine that they were the speaker and then to answer a few questions from that perspective. Depending on the listening quality exhibited by the listener (high, medium, or low), the participants reported different levels of relatedness, autonomy, and loneliness. The results showed that participants thought that speakers who shared an experience of rejection with a high-quality listener felt less lonely.
Mediation analysis showed that a sense of relatedness and autonomy mediated the effect of listening quality on the loneliness of speakers (see figure).
Listening quality reduces loneliness through relatedness and autonomy.
Study 2: Interpersonal interaction and listening quality
In this study, conducted with 102 British students, participants shared a personal experience of rejection with a researcher. The researchers randomly assigned the participants to listeners with either moderate or high listening quality. The participants reported a greater relatedness with the high-quality listener. They also reported a greater relatedness with the listener and felt more autonomous. Mediation analysis again showed that relatedness and autonomy mediated the impact of listening manipulation on loneliness.
Study 3: communication and listening quality via Zoom
With 205 Israeli students, the researchers conducted a similar study to Study 2, but via Zoom. This showed that the results of Study 2 could be replicated in a virtual environment with multiple listeners.
Study 4: Sharing of experiences of rejection or bad luck
In this study, the researchers randomly selected 354 participants to discuss an experience of social rejection or bad luck they had experienced with a listener. The listener showed either high or medium listening quality. The results showed that talking about rejection with a high-quality listener reduced feelings of loneliness. The results of Study 4 again supported the mediating roles of relatedness and autonomy in the effect of listening quality on the loneliness of speakers.
Study 5: Listening and hierarchy
This study involved 740 participants who were asked to imagine themselves as a new employee in a work scenario, experiencing social rejection from colleagues, and then having a conversation with their manager, whose listening quality varied across the different scenarios.
Participants reported improved relatedness, autonomy (both self-congruence and choice), and reduced loneliness when exposed to high-quality listening scenarios.
However, in the subsequent mediation analysis, choice autonomy was not found to be significant in reducing loneliness when the effects of relatedness and autonomy on self-congruence are considered. This suggests that while high-quality listening can improve speaker-listener relatedness, and autonomy (particularly self-congruence), the freedom to direct the conversation (choice autonomy) in this context may be less essential for reducing loneliness.
These studies show that high-quality listening can contribute significantly to reducing loneliness, especially after discussing experiences of social rejection. Creating a sense of relatedness and promoting autonomy are the keys to this effect.