Strangers love meaningful chats, research shows.
woman talking friendly with her fellow traveler

People like having long talks with strangers, according to a study. A new study says this: Even though people often avoid deep and meaningful conversations with strangers because they don’t think other people care about their lives, they can actually benefit from them. This is because these kinds of conversations can help people build relationships with each other.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is a publication of the American Psychological Association. The findings of the study are in this journal.
Connections that are meaningful tend to make people happier, but they also seem to be less willing to have deeper and more meaningful conversations. Nicholas Epley, PhD, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said this.
This is an interesting social paradox: If connecting with others in deep and meaningful ways makes us happier, why don’t we do it more often in our daily lives? This is what Epley said.
To find out the answer to that question, Epley and his team came up with a series of twelve experiments that had more than 1,800 people take part in them. The researchers asked pairs of people, mostly strangers, to talk about either very deep or very shallow things. In some experiments, people were given shallow or deep questions to talk about.
Shallow questions asked about common topics like, “What do you do for a living?” “It’s been a month since you saw the best TV show. Tell your partner about it.” If a crystal ball could tell the truth about your life, what would you want to know? In other experiments, people came up with their own deep and shallow conversation topics to talk about.
They thought about how awkward the conversations would be, how connected they thought they would feel to their conversation partner, and how much they would enjoy the conversation before the conversations. This is how it works: After they were done, they rated how awkward the conversations were, how connected they felt, and how much fun they had.

Overall, the researchers found that both deep and shallow conversations were less awkward and made people feel more connected and happy than they thought. That made the effect stronger when people had long talks. Participants who talked about deep questions thought the conversation would be more awkward than those who talked about shallow questions.
They also had more fun and felt more connected when they had more in-depth talks. During a study, people who had a long conversation with one person and a short one with another person were supposed to prefer the short one at first. But after having both, they preferred the long one more than the short one.
They say they want to have more deep talks, but why aren’t they actually having more of them? People may think that strangers don’t want to know about their deepest thoughts and feelings, but that’s not true, say the researchers.
Researchers did some of their experiments this way: They asked people to think about how interested their conversation partner would be in the conversation, and then they asked them to say how interested their partner was in the conversation after the conversation was over, On average, people thought their partners were less interested in learning about them than they really were.
People thought that if they talked about something important or meaningful in a conversation, they would get blank stares and silence, but this didn’t happen in the real conversation, said Epley. “Humans are very social, and they tend to reciprocate when they talk to each other. As a result, if you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important in return. This leads to a much better conversation.”
In the last set of experiments, the researchers looked at whether people were more interested in having a deeper conversation if they had more accurate expectations about their conversation partner. As part of a study, they asked the people who took part to imagine that they were talking to someone who was both caring and interested, or someone who was not at all interested at all. Participants who thought they were going to be talking to a caring person chose to ask more detailed questions than participants who thought they were going to be talking to an unkind partner.
In another experiment, the researchers told people about the results of the previous experiments. They let them know that most people underestimate how much other people care about hearing about their personal and deeper thoughts, which is why they did this. If you told someone else about this, they were more likely to choose to talk to a stranger about more complicated things than people who didn’t know about it.
Epley says that these findings have a lot of important practical applications. The expectations of the people who took part in our study were not wildly off, but they were consistently miscalibrated in a way that could keep people from talking a little deeper with others in their daily lives.
If you’re aware that other people like meaningful conversation, you might spend less time on small talk and have more pleasant interactions as the pandemic fades.


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