Reaching out to a friend with a note, call or text is more appreciated than you think, new research suggests.
Researchers found that people consistently underestimate how much others in their social circle might appreciate an unexpected contact.
Studies from Art University of Pittsburgh also found that people were even more grateful for contact when it was unexpected.
The paper’s lead researcher urged people to connect with friends and loved ones – especially those they lost touch with during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, included a series of experiments with more than 5,900 participants to assess whether people accurately understand how much others value what they are addressed to.
In one assessment, half of the participants were asked to recall the last time they reached out to someone in their social circle “just because” or “just to catch up” via email, text message, or phone after a long period of not interacting with them.
Other participants were asked to recall a similar situation when someone approached them.
They then rated the contact.
Those who reached out were significantly less likely to rate their level of gratitude for the contact compared to those who were contacted.
The researchers found similar results when people reached out to someone in their social circle they hadn’t spoken to in a while.
They also found that when there was an element of surprise in the contact, appreciation was even higher.
Lead author Peggy Liu of the University of Pittsburgh said: “People fundamentally social creatures and like to communicate with others.
“Many studies show that maintaining social connections is good for our mental and physical health. However, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connections, our research shows that people significantly underestimate how much others will appreciate being approached.”
She added: “We also found that people underestimated the gratitude of others to a greater extent when the communication was more unexpected, as opposed to the usual pattern of communication, or when the social ties between the two participants were weak.”
Regarding the impact of the pandemic, the researchers said that initiating social contact after a long period of disconnection may seem daunting, but their findings suggest that these concerns may be unnecessary.
“I sometimes stop before reaching out to people in my social circle before the pandemic for a variety of reasons,” Dr. Liu said.
“When this happens, I think about the results of these studies and remind myself that other people may also want to come to me and hesitate for the same reasons.
“Then I tell myself that I’d really appreciate it if they contacted me, and that there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t appreciate me contacting them the same way.”