Old friends more grateful to receive message than we expect, study finds | Friendship


It’s happened to all of us: sitting on the couch, toying with the idea of ​​sending an old friend an unexpected text, but worrying that a message out of the blue will seem weird, intrusive, or just plain unwelcome.

However, research suggests that such fears are unfounded, with those on the receiving end often being much more appreciative than the sender might expect.

In addition, the research suggests that the more of a surprise a message or small gift is, the greater the appreciation for the recipient.

“Many people have lost contact with others in their lives, including many friends. Despite wanting to reconnect, I think a lot of people are hesitant to do so,” said Dr. Peggy Liu of the University of Pittsburgh, the study’s lead author.

“These findings suggest that their hesitations may be misplaced, as others probably appreciate that they accomplish more than people think.”

Liu said the team started their investigation because they felt that many people were increasingly losing touch with each other. “We wondered why that might be,” she said.

Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Liu and her colleagues report how they investigated the matter by conducting a series of experiments, based on hypothetical and real-life scenarios, involving more than 5,900 participants.

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In one experiment, 54 participants wrote a note to a fellow student with whom they had not had contact for a while. This note was emailed by the researchers to the latter, who asked both the writer and recipient to indicate how much they appreciated the message.

The results show that senders rated the recipients’ rating at an average of 5.57 on a seven-point scale, while the recipients themselves rated the rating at 6.17. The team said these and other experiments showed that people who receive messages value them significantly more than the sender is likely to expect.

Further experiments suggested that the degree of this mismatch is related to how surprising the contact is. When the team conducted thought experiments expecting a hypothetical message or gift to be given, they found no difference between the sender’s opinion of how much it would be valued and those of those who imagined the situation as recipients.

“One reason this underestimation of appreciation occurs is that people who consider getting in touch don’t think about how positively surprised others would be if they contact them,” Liu said.

But Liu said there were still questions. “While we show that people typically underestimate how much others appreciate them reaching out to them, it remains an open question how we can actually encourage people to connect more with others,” she said.

Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the work, said the results made sense.

“Being connected to others has been consistently shown to be good for our physical and mental health. Indeed, there is a whole new literature on what has been termed ‘the social remedy’ showing that such compounds can be remarkably effective in everything from protecting against depression and preserving cognitive abilities in the old to recovery from heart attacks,” he said. , adding that simply feeling part of a group was equally effective.

Reicher suggested that Covid has underlined the need to help people connect. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we have a pandemic of loneliness that is causing tremendous damage and we urgently need to address it as a public health issue,” he said. “Finding ways to connect people should be a priority.”

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