Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis (Ph.D.)

Department or Program

Psychological & Brain Sciences

First Advisor

Thalia Wheatley

Second Advisor

Luke Chang


We spend our lives having conversations, and some inevitably go better than others. What happens in conversation that makes people feel connected? To explore this question, I recorded pairs of strangers and friends having unstructured conversations. In Chapter 1, I show that people who feel connected tend to respond quickly, creating short gaps between turns. However, long gaps are not necessarily bad. Although long gaps signal moments of disconnection and awkwardness for strangers, they mark moments of heightened connection for friends by providing space for enjoyment and mutual reflection. In Chapter 2, I examine how people start their conversations. Specifically, how do people who have never met before initiate their first interaction? And how do these approaches differ from people who are already robustly connected? I find that strangers start their conversations more similarly to each other, compared to friends. In particular, strangers tend to start with topics that can easily launch into many different topics, increasing the likelihood of finding common ground. Friends do not need to rely on this strategy and can instead immediately start their conversations with topics idiosyncratic to their relationship. In Chapter 3, I highlight another fundamental difference in how friends and strangers communicate by exploring the use of insider language, or words carrying specific meaning between some people but not others. I find that friends use insider language more than strangers and when they do, they feel more connected. When people know each other well, communication can move from spoken words to shared thoughts. Together, these findings reveal that people feel closer when they can respond quickly in conversation and feel comfortable not speaking, and that being able to jump right into a conversation and communicate using shorthand are hallmarks of friendship.