The Sounds of Silence: Inferences from the Absence of Word-of-Mouth

Kimberlee Weaver, Anne Hamby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While past work has explored some of the reasons why people themselves may remain silent in a group, almost no research has examined the mirror image of this question: How do consumers construe the silence of others? Do they project the opinions of the speakers in a conversation onto the silent individuals, assuming that silence signals agreement? Do they have a usual or “default” naïve theory of silence that they use to explain it across multiple contexts—i.e., “silence usually signals disagreement?” Or does silence act as a mirror, reflecting observers’ own opinions back at them? Three experiments contrasted perceivers’ estimates of conversational silence with their estimates of unknown opinions outside the conversation. Estimates of opinions outside the conversation generally followed an agreement-with-the-speakers rule—the more an opinion was expressed in the group, the more consumers assumed others would support it too. In contrast, silence inside the conversation was interpreted very differently, serving as a mirror for participants’ own thoughts, even when the vocal majority favored the opposite position. Results suggest a process whereby observers project the reason they personally would have been silent in the group (given their opinion) onto silence, leading to an inference that the silents agree with the self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Society for Consumer Psychology


  • Inferences
  • Projection
  • Silence
  • Social influence
  • Social norms
  • Word of mouth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Marketing


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