Here’s a way to bring some relief to those seemingly never-ending subway delays: strike up a conversation with the stranger next to you. Research conducted by behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder reveals that engaging in chitchat with your fellow straphangers can actually improve your well-being.
Eply and Schroeder’s study is grounded in the idea of social connections. While much research has shown that “strong ties” with friends and family can have a tremendous impact on mental health, little has been done to see how passing connections, or “weak ties,” can impact our happiness.
In their experiment, Eply and Schroeder wrangled three groups of commuters and gave them each instructions to either connect with a stranger, remain disconnected, or go about their commute as they normally would. What they found was that those who engaged in conversation with a fellow rider reported a more positive (and no less productive) commute over those who did nothing or consciously avoided making a connection. The results even surprised the group given the prompt to chat. Many started out the experiment believing that the activity would prove cumbersome or lead to a far less enjoyable ride.
“Essentially people think that others are less social than they actually are,” Eply told Business Insider. “It turns out that the person sitting next to you–even the one mindlessly thumbing their cell phone–is more interested in talking to you than you might think.”
“Human beings are social animals,” the two researchers add in their report. “Those who misunderstand the consequences of social interactions may not, in at least some contexts, be social enough for their own well-being.”
So next time someone makes eye contact with you on the train, maybe ask how their day is going instead of averting your gaze to the floor.
[Via Business Insider]
- Your Suspicions Are Correct, Subway Service Is Really Getting Worse
- NYC Has the Longest Work Week and Worst Commutes in the Nation
- The NYC Subway Still Runs on 1930s Technology, Pen and Paper