Hi There! How Are You? The Benefits of Talking to Strangers

Two women sitting and talking with each other on a park bench
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The pandemic hasn’t just stopped many of us from interacting with family and friends. It’s also stopped us from chatting with strangers — and those brief encounters can be important, improving not only our mood but our overall health, according to research from Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Essex in Britain.

“Humans have this fundamental need for belonging. We only thrive with our inner mental health and our physical health if we feel integrated in our community, if we feel a sense of belonging and of being needed by other people,” Sandstrom told The Guardian in a March 2021 Science Weekly podcast.

Even a friendly interaction with a Starbucks barista can make us feel better than silently swiping our credit card. And that’s especially important now, “when we’re missing out on so many sources of connection,” Sandstrom added in a phone interview. “A chat with a stranger can fill that need.”

Strangers also provide another benefit: novelty.

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“Right now, we’re kind of stuck in the same patterns every day,” Sandstrom said. “People are bored. That short chat with a cashier or a person at the dog park “brings a spark of something unusual to your day.”

If you think only extroverts benefit from these casual chats, guess again. Outgoing and quieter people both thrive from a friendly exchange, research found, and introverts even more so.

To read the full version of this article, go to "The Benefits of Talking to Strangers" in Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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