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Talking to Strangers

Lenore Skenazy on

What a fantastic study: Research just published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that when people are prompted to talk to a stranger, surprising things happen:

They start to feel less awkward after doing it a few times.

They feel less likely to be rejected.

They are more willing to do it in the future.

They consider themselves more convivial and approachable.

All of which adds up to OPTIMISM and CONFIDENCE. And aren't those what we all want?


The experiment was clever: Researchers at two universities -- one in the U.S., one in Britain -- divided about 300 students into two groups. Both got a "scavenger hunt" app that gave them daily prompts about a type of person to be on the lookout for: Someone in an interesting shirt, someone with a goatee, a barista, someone from a different generation, etc., etc. Simple, random folks. The participants had to find at least one a day for a week and were eligible for prizes for completing the task.

The control group was told merely to observe this person. The "treatment" group was told: Go up and talk to them.

Yep -- talk to a stranger.

Surveyed at the beginning, only 40% of the treatment group thought that the first person they'd approach would talk to them. But in fact, 92% of the time, they immediately struck conversational gold. As they did this again and again for a week, a lightbulb went off: People are HAPPY to be spoken to -- not annoyed.


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