Why You Should Smile at Strangers
A recent LiveScience article highlighted research that suggests that giving strangers a slight smile can make people feel more connected to one another.
At the annual meeting of Society for the Study of Motivation, researchers from Purdue University in Indiana suggested that people who have been acknowledged by a stranger feel more connected to others immediately after the experience than people who have been deliberately ignored.
Eric Wesselmann and his colleagues conducted a study where 239 pedestrians on a busy campus area didn’t even know they were part of a study. They simply passed by someone who acknowledged them politely, acknowledged them with a smile or stared straight through them as if they weren’t even there.
Immediately after this encounter, the unknowing participants were approached by another person who asked them to fill out a survey on social connectedness. The participants had no idea that the stranger who had just passed them was part of this study. A fourth group of participants filled out the survey without ever encountering the stranger at all.
The survey results showed that being pointedly ignored by a stranger had an immediate effect.
Participants who’d gotten the cold shoulder reported feeling more socially disconnected than people who’d gotten acknowledged, whether that acknowledgement came with a smile or not.
People who hadn’t encountered the stranger fell somewhere in the middle.
Researchers suspect that this response is evolutionary. Humans are social animals, adapted for group living, Wesselmann said.