October 12, 2011, 3:45 PM — The next time you're on a Google+ hangout or other video call, relish any computer- or network-based communications delays between you and the other participant. After all, such seemingly awkward and frustrating silences can actually enhance the conversation, according to research out of Ohio State University.
Ironically, publication of the research is somewhat delayed itself: The study, which appears in a recent issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, took place in 2004.
"When I first sent it out, the reviewers complained that there was no theory. I think the theory has caught up now, and... the questions about video chat delay are more relevant than ever," wrote Stacie Renfro Powers, assistant professor of communication at OSU, in an email.
That relevancy applies to the latest devices used for video calls, including smartphones and tablet computers, such as the Apple iPad (See: Polycom brings video meetings to iPads, Android tablets )
Powers and colleagues found that even a 1-second delay in video calls involving emotionally-charged topics can force participants to listen better to each other and take more visual cues, at least when first discussing the subject (the study involved 70 college students discussing the 2004 U.S. presidential election and U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq).
"The delay forced the participants to make more effort to follow each other, and they weren't thinking as much about the difficult topic they were discussing or the uncomfortable situation they were in," Powers said in a statement.
Although she warns that the impact of a delay can depend on such factors as whether the participants of the conversation know each other well, and in cases where they do, a delay can be more frustrating to put up with. Delays can also result in video call participants missing non-verbal cues, such as head nods, that can be key elements of a negotiation, for example.
"If someone is a few milliseconds too late with nodding at a statement you make, for example, it may appear that they aren't paying attention," Powers said.
RG/A Associates, University of Connecticut and New York University researchers also took part in the study.
Circle Bob at Google+