Don’t Be A Stranger On The Train

by Dish Staff

dish_commute

New research suggests you’re better off chatting up fellow commuters than staying mum:

The investigation began with rail and bus commuters travelling into Chicago. Dozens of them were recruited into one of three conditions – to engage in conversation with a stranger on the train, sit in solitude, or simply behave as they usually would. Afterwards they mailed back a questionnaire in which they answered questions about the experience. Their answers were compared to the predictions made by other commuters, who instead of fulfilling one of these three conditions, imagined what kind of experience they’d have had if they’d taken part.

The returned questionnaires showed it was those commuters who were instructed to strike up conversation with a stranger who’d had the most positive experiences (sitting in solitude was the least enjoyable, with behaving as normal scoring in between). Surprisingly perhaps, chatting with a stranger didn’t come at the cost of self-reported productivity. These findings contrasted starkly with the predictions made by the commuters who imagined taking part – they thought that being asked to engage with a stranger would have been the least enjoyable of the three conditions. [Researchers Nicholas] Epley and [Juliana] Schroeder said this provides evidence of a “severe misunderstanding of the psychological consequences of social engagement”, thus providing a clue as to why, despite being social animals, we so often ignore each other.

(Photo of NYC subway via Rebecca Wilson)