Chitchat and health
Growing up my mother was the type of person to strike up a conversation anywhere- in line at the check out, in the elevator, or waiting for the traffic signal to change. I find myself doing much the same, at times to my teenager's dismay. Whether it is remarking about the traffic, the weather, or just making conversation, I find these quick exchanges generally pleasant.
On a recent vacation with friends, we struck up a conversation with some fellow hikers. Later in the day, my friend remarked they heard on the radio that talking to strangers was good for your health. As someone interested in health and wellness, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more.
A bit of digging found my friend was likely referring to a 2014 article by Sandstrom and Dunn. This article looked at interactions they considered weak social ties, as opposed to looking at strong social support, in an effort to see if these encounters still offered a health benefit. This study found that beyond family and friends, interacting with strangers still add to our social and emotional well-being. Though they do not have the depth of our friendship or family links, day to day fleeting connections are something we may want to consciously build in regularly. Clinically, I imagine this may differ if people have social anxiety, autism, or significant trauma/trust issues, but for the majority of people it is a positive gain.
This study found that interacting with strangers can add to our social and emotional well-being.
So in the era of curbside pickup, and staring at our cell phones, remember that talking to strangers, even in passing, can be good for your health. In your striving for convenience and efficiency, don't end up with "peopleless" days. Be sure to make opportunities to get out and interact, as it can reduce isolation and increase quality of life.
Social interactions and wellbeing: the surprising power of weak ties.