Despite having constant access to people’s lives via social media, keeping friendships often seems to be more difficult than it ever has been. The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with an increase in loneliness, and some people have reported feeling socially uncomfortable about engaging in in-person activities again after enduring stringent isolation and quarantines for the past few years. The idea is that maintaining friendships typically takes work, particularly when factors like distance, different life stages, and altering priorities are involved. The already challenging chore of staying in touch with people is made considerably more difficult by a pandemic, and occasionally it might feel like a lot of work to text or call an acquaintance or even a close friend. However, if recent research is to be believed, it’s worthwhile to check in on your buddies.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh conducted a new study, which was reported on July 1, 2022 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology . The results showed that people value unexpected check-ins more than most people realize. The researchers studied simple social interactions in 13 trials with more than 5,900 participants in order to reach this conclusion.
For instance, in one experiment, participants were instructed to contact a friend or acquaintance. In other trials, subjects made contact with someone they thought of as a friend. Sending a quick text, phone, email, or modest gift are all examples of reaching out. The people who responded were then asked to rank how content they thought the person they had reached out to would be. When the recipients were asked how much they genuinely valued the check-in, a pattern became apparent. The response to a casual check-in was frequently underestimated by individuals who reached out, but the person on the other end of the line much appreciated the gesture, especially if they hadn’t heard from the initiator in a while.
The researchers concluded that there is a “strong propensity to underestimate how much others value being called out to,” and that the recipients’ element of surprise accounts for the discrepancy between expected and actual reactions. Knowing how much a single phone or text could mean to someone may discourage people from reaching out, according to the researchers, thus figuring out the origin of this “underestimation” is crucial.
As the researchers note in their paper, social isolation is currently an important problem. However, their research indicates that keeping friendships alive through “just-because” texts, calls, and emails has greater value than you may think. Researchers said in the paper that they hoped this study will provide people the self-assurance they need to make new connections with people now that many COVID-19 restrictions have been abolished.
“Our analysis offers strong evidence and a motivating green light to go ahead and surprise someone by reaching out to folks who are cautiously and trepidatiously reentering the social milieu while feeling miserably unprepared and uncertain. Such efforts are probably valued more than one imagines, “the study’s authors found.
Consider this: Have you ever wanted to text a buddy but held off out of concern that you would be bothering them or being a bother? If so, perhaps the findings of this study will convince you to send that text, make that call, send that gift, or write that email in the future. After all, as people try to rethink how they maintain friendships, it’s important to understand that seemingly insignificant acts can have a significant impact.
Peggy Liu, Ph.D., according to the study’s abstract , the study’s principal author, said: “I occasionally hesitate before reaching out to folks from my pre-pandemic social network for a variety of reasons.” When that occurs, she explained, “I consider these research findings and remind myself that other individuals may also want to get in touch with me and hesitate for the same reasons. Then, I convince myself that there is no reason to believe they would not equally value my reaching out to them and that I would enjoy it so much if they would.
Take this as a cue to reconnect with someone you may not have spoken to in a long. (Coming Soon: Why Having Friends Is So Important for Your Health and How to Make Friends As an Adult.)