Scientific evidence of the benefit of talking to strangers

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I love to talk to people I don’t know.  Just making a comment to someone at the gym, paying a stranger a compliment, or talking to the person in line with me at the store is fun.  But I know there are many people out there aren’t comfortable doing it, or are too busy scrolling on their phones to even notice the people around them.  While I knew I experienced a benefit from talking to strangers, now there is some scientific evidence to back it up.  Read on.

…We tend to think that close others – friends, romantic partners, and family members – are our biggest sources of connection, laughter, and warmth. While that may well be true, researchers (link is external) have recently found that interacting with “weak ties” – people that we don’t know well – actually brings a boost in mood and feelings of belonging that people don’t expect.

In another series of studies (link is external), Chicago-area commuters using public transportation were instructed to strike up a conversation with someone near them on their respective buses or trains. On average, these people felt better than those who were instructed to stand or sit in silence. The researchers also argued that, when we do shy away from casual conversations with strangers, it is often due to a misplaced anxiety that they might not want to talk to us. This belief, much of the time, is false. Turns out, many people are actually perfectly willing to talk, and may even be flattered to receive your attention! 1

To that effect, another study showed that the non-initiators actually DO enjoy the interaction: “A final study examined another possibility: Perhaps the people who initiate conversations enjoy them, but those who do not initiate the conversations enjoy them less. That is, maybe the conversation is only positive for the initiator. This study was done in a psychology lab. Participants were waiting for the study to start. Some were instructed either to engage in a conversation with a second participant in the waiting room or to avoid having a conversation. Afterward, both participants were asked about how much they enjoyed the wait. Both the participant who initiated the conversation and the non-initiator enjoyed the wait more when they had a conversation.”…  2

That tells you that you have nothing to lose!  This weekend I challenge you to put the phone down, look at the person next to you and at least say hi.  Maybe even pay them a compliment, or ask a question (if you need tips on conversation, check out my blog “Let’s Talk.  Old school.  With our Mouths.”).  Not only will you get a little mood boost, but you will be providing someone else with the same.  And who can’t use a little more of that in their life, right?


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