When someone makes a nasty quip, cuts us off in traffic, ignores our suggestions or takes credit for our work, we get mad, sad and even angry. Rudeness, even just a little, can really hurt. We know these reactions can be harmful, both to ourselves and those around us, but recent research suggests that the emotional reactions we have to rudeness tell only half of the story. There are cognitive effects we are not even aware of. In fact, this is what I study – how experiencing rudeness can damage performance by affecting our thinking and decision-making.
For example, in a recent study, my colleagues and I found that when people experience rudeness, they unknowingly become biased toward rude interpretations of social interactions. In other words, when we experience rudeness, we tend to think others are being rude to us as we go forward.
Rudeness has also been shown to draw cognitive resources away from individuals, causing them to perform worse and make more mistakes: for example, not remembering details of a conversation.
If you are writing up a report or making a hamburger for dinner, the costs of mistakes are inconvenient. Imagine if you are a doctor working on an infant in a NICU? Suddenly, the costs of simple mistakes caused by rudeness become much bigger. Shockingly, this is exactly what we found in a new study – rudeness causes medical teams to perform worse, and ultimately this could have huge costs for patients.