Effects of taboo conversation topics on impression formation and task performance evaluation

Hye Eun Lee1, Catherine Kingsley Westerman2, Emi Hashi3, Kyle B. Heuett4, Stephen A. Spates5, Katie M. Reno6, Erica W. Jenkins7
1School of Communication and Media, Ewha Womans University, Republic of Korea
2Department of Communication, North Dakota State University, United States
3Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Arizona State University, United States
4Department of Communication Studies, Ball State University, United States
5Department of Communication, Missouri State University, United States
6School of Communication Studies, The University of Tennessee, and Client Success, Watermark, United States
7School of Communication Studies, The University of Tennessee, United States
Cite this article:  Lee, H. E., Kingsley Westerman, C., Hashi, E., Heuett, K. B., Spates, S. A., Reno, K. M., & Jenkins, E. W. (2020). Effects of taboo conversation topics on impression formation and task performance evaluation. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 48(8), e8322.

Volume 48 Issue 8 | e8322 | Published: August 2020 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.8322

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We examined how taboo conversation topics, such as being arrested, religion, and one’s body weight, affect impression formation and task performance. In an experiment with 109 women, each participant and a female research confederate, whom the participant believed to be another participant, had a conversation and were asked to complete a task. We manipulated the conversation topics and actual task performance of the confederate, and measured participants’ communication satisfaction; perception of the confederate’s social, physical, and task attractiveness; and task performance. The results show that when the confederate performed well and appropriate (vs. taboo) conversation topics were discussed, the participants formed a more positive impression of the confederate and evaluated her task performance more positively. Therefore, if social norms for appropriate conversation topics are not followed, individuals may be less satisfied with their interpersonal communication interaction with the person who has not observed the norms, and may evaluate the task performance of that other person more negatively.

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