September 30, 2021 — 13:05 PM
How often have you avoided getting into a deep discussion with a stranger because you figured they’d prefer to keep the conversation light? According to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, you might be better off just diving in.
For this study, researchers wanted to understand how people really feel about meaningful conversation versus small talk. They gathered over 1,800 subjects to participate in a series of 12 experiments that included either small talk or deep discussion with a stranger.
Some of the small talk topics included things like TV shows or the weather, while the deep conversations were about things that required more vulnerability and intimacy.
Participants were also asked to predict how awkward or enjoyable they thought the conversations would be, and how connected they would feel afterward. Then, post-conversation, they recorded what they actually thought about the conversation that went down.
Despite our hesitancy to get deep with strangers, the results of this study suggest deep conversations between strangers were not only less awkward than participants thought they would be but also more enjoyable, which resulted in stronger feelings of connection between the pairs.
Interestingly, the participants also often assumed strangers wouldn’t be interested in learning about them, when this proved to not be the case. On top of that, participants who had some deep conversations and some shallow ones thought they’d prefer the shallow conversation. Again, not the case.
As professor of behavioral science and study co-author Nicholas Epley, Ph.D., explains in a news release, “People seemed to imagine that revealing something meaningful or important about themselves in conversation would be met with blank stares and silence, only to find this wasn’t true in the actual conversation.”
Set yourself up for success with a good night’s sleep.*
Humans are hardwired for connection—and that includes those fleeting moments with strangers that can wind up making your day.
“Human beings are deeply social and tend to reciprocate in conversation,” Epley adds. “If you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important exchanged in return, leading to a considerably better conversation.”
So the next time you’re stuck in a long line next to a stranger, meet someone new, or simply find yourself reverting to small talk, remember these findings. Even strangers, it seems, are a lot more receptive to deep conversations than you might think.