Sandstrom, G.M.* , Boothby, E.J.* , Cooney, G* (2022). Talking to strangers: A week-long intervention reduces psychological barriers to social connection. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 102, 1044356
Research on well-being, conversation, and belonging has underscored the importance of social interaction for people’s health and happiness. Despite the benefits of social interaction, people seldom strike up conversations with people they do not know. Instead, people wear headphones to avoid talking, stay glued to their smartphones in public places, or pretend not to notice a new coworker they still have not introduced themselves to.
These impressive displays of “civil inattention,” seemingly innocuous dodges in the moment, can collectively add up to a behavioral pattern that stymies social interaction before it begins. Recent research suggests one reason for this behavior: people have remarkably pessimistic expectations about how such conversations will go (e.g., they believe they will be rejected or not know what to say or that people won’t like them).
To reduce people’s fears, we developed an intervention in which participants played a week-long scavenger hunt game that involved repeatedly finding, approaching, and talking to strangers. Compared to controls, this minimal, easily replicable treatment made people less pessimistic about the possibility of rejection and more optimistic about their conversational ability.