Talking to Strangers Can Make You Happier


Determined not to make eye contact with anyone on the subway? You’re not alone, but our commutes would be happier if we socialized more, according to a new study.

“Connecting with strangers on a train may not bring the same long-term benefits as connecting with friends,” University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Nicholas Epley said in a press release. “But commuters on a train into downtown Chicago reported a significantly more positive commute when they connected with a stranger than when they sat in solitude.”

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Over the course of nine experiments, the researchers learned that people predict that social isolation will result in a more enjoyable commute or waiting room experience. But the participants ended up reporting positive feedback both being spoken to and initiating conversation with a stranger.

The researchers also discovered that fear drives much of our solitary behavior: Participants said that even though they wanted to chat with someone, they assumed the other person wouldn’t want to reciprocate.

But in fact, “the pleasure of connection seems contagious: In a laboratory waiting room, participants who were talked to had equally positive experiences as those instructed to talk,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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Still uncertain? Think of Jerry Seinfeld befriending the nudist on the subway on the infamous Seinfeld episode. Or, take the researchers’ advice: The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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