Study Shows That Reaching Out to Old Friends Is More Appreciated Than We Might Think

Photo of Two Friends Hugging

Photo of two friends hugging (Photo: Dima_Aslanian/DepositPhotos)

It's easy to lose touch with friends, especially when you live far apart. And sometimes the longer you've gone without speaking to someone, the harder it feels to pick up where you left off. However, a new study suggests that reaching out to pals—especially ones that you have not talked to in a while—is even more appreciated than initially thought.

“People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others. Yet, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connection, do people accurately understand how much other people value being reached out to by someone in their social circle?” the study asks. To answer this question, the authors gathered 5,900 participants and put them through a series of experiments.

In one scenario, half of the participants were asked to remember the last time they contacted a friend they had fallen out of touch with, then estimate on a seven-point scale how appreciative the person was (with one being the lowest score, and seven being the highest). Then, the other half of the participants were prompted to recall a time when someone had reached out to them and assign a number to how grateful they were. When these two groups were compared, the researchers found that people greatly underestimated the value of reaching out to someone.

“Across a series of preregistered experiments, we document a robust underestimation of how much other people appreciate being reached out to,” the authors continue. “We find evidence compatible with an account wherein one reason this underestimation of appreciation occurs is because responders (vs. initiators) are more focused on their feelings of surprise at being reached out to. A focus on feelings of surprise in turn predicts greater appreciation.”

In another experiment, participants were told to send a note and small gift to a friend they had not interacted with for a long period of time. They were then asked to estimate on a numerical scale how thankful the person would be because of the contact. Additionally, the receivers of the gifts were asked to rank their feelings upon accepting the gift on the same seven-number scale. Once again, the gift-givers greatly underestimated how much their gesture meant to the other person.

The study concluded that reaching out to people—particularly those that you've lost contact with—is almost always appreciated. It can seem challenging to maintain healthy social interactions, especially due to an increased amount of people working from home and a lack of opportunities. But clearly, the evidence suggests that a little extra effort is worth it. “For those treading back into the social milieu with caution and trepidation,” the study adds, “feeling woefully out of practice and unsure, our work provides robust evidence and an encouraging green light to go ahead and surprise someone by reaching out.”

h/t: [Psych News Daily]

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Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. She wrote and illustrated an instructional art book about how to draw cartoons titled 'Cartooning Made Easy: Circle, Triangle, Square' that was published by Walter Foster in 2022.
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