Have You Checked in on Your Friends Lately? A New Study Says They Will Appreciate It More Than You Think
During life's busiest—and sometimes most stressful—moments, that unexpected phone call or text from a loved one can mean the world. As it turns out, these surprise touchbases actually do make a difference when it comes to our mental health. A new study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology noted that the greater the surprise element of these check-ins, the more appreciated the person will feel—which is a great reason to reach out to that friend or relative you love, but haven't connected with in years.
"People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others," said Peggy Liu, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study. "There is much research showing that maintaining social connections is good for our mental and physical health. However, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connection, our research suggests that people significantly underestimate how much others will appreciate being reached out to."
The researchers came to their findings after conducting several experiments with over 5,900 participants total. Within the series of tests, volunteers were tasked with determining how much someone else would appreciate a surprise moment of connection with a loved one—and the factors that would determine their following sense of appreciation in general.
Half of the volunteers in one experiment were asked to think back to the last time they reached out to someone in their friend group "just because" or "just to catch up" by calling them, sending an email, or shooting them a text after losing touch. The remaining participants were asked to reflect on the last time someone reached out to them in the same fashion. From there, all volunteers rated the experience by assessing just how much they or the person they reached out to felt appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased by the interaction.
The result? Participants on the receiving end, who recalled a friend randomly reaching out to them, felt the most appreciated. Across all experiments—some of which included participants sending a small gift or note, as opposed to a call or text—people felt the best after a loved one intentionally, but unexpectedly connected with them (instead of vice versa).
"We found that people receiving the communication placed greater focus than those initiating the communication on the surprise element, and this heightened focus on surprise was associated with higher appreciation," said Liu. "We also found that people underestimated others' appreciation to a greater extent when the communication was more surprising, as opposed to part of a regular communication pattern, or the social ties between the two participants were weak."