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Small Talk With Strangers Sparks Happiness, Study Finds

There may be real benefits to striking up a conversation with your cab driver.

ByABC News
October 3, 2016, 11:01 AM

— -- It turns out there may be real benefits to striking up a conversation with your cab driver or barista.

Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and co-author of the study "Mistakenly Seeking Solitude?" examined whether connecting with a stranger can improve one's overall well-being.

Previous findings suggest that people avoid small talk with strangers because they believe it could lead to a negative experience.

But according to the study, engaging in small talk could make you feel more positive and happier.

Through several experiments, Epley and study co-author Juliana Schroeder instructed commuters to either connect with a nearby stranger, remain disconnected or commute as normal. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014.

Those who reported a more positive experience in solitude were found to have underestimated a stranger's interest in connecting, "which in turn keeps people from learning the actual consequence of social interaction," Epley and Schroeder noted.

Results indicated that participants reported a more positive experience when connecting with a stranger.

The pleasure of connecting with others appears to be contagious. In a laboratory waiting room, strangers who were talked to had the same enjoyable experience as the person being instructed to talk, the study found.

"Human beings are social animals," the study concluded. "Those who misunderstand the consequences of social interactions may not, in at least some contexts, be social enough for their own well-being."