Next time you're looking to ditch the doldrums, try talking to a stranger. Even a brief interaction with someone you don't know may boost your well-being, according to a study in the June Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 92, No. 6).
"That's because the desire to be liked often prompts people to put their best face forward and act cheerful," says the studys lead author, Elizabeth W. Dunn, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. "And that mood enhancement may also come whether were aiming to impress a stranger or a close friend," she adds.
Dunn recruited 38 undergraduate heterosexual couples who had been dating for at least three months. The participants interacted with either their romantic partner or an opposite-sex stranger for four minutes, talking about whatever they chose. Half of the participants predicted how they would feel immediately before and after interacting with their partner or with a stranger, and half of the participants rated their actual emotions.
Results showed that interacting with a stranger-as compared with a romantic partner- prompted participants to try harder to make a positive impression, providing a sense of unanticipated emotional well-being.
Researchers then went a step further and enlisted 23 more couples to interact for five minutes. Researchers told half of the couples to make a good impression on their partners, as if they had just started dating, and told the other half to simply hold a regular conversation. Couples in the good impression condition felt significantly better after the interaction than participants had predicted.
"The study provides evidence for something many clinical psychologists already intuitively tap into when they advise depressed clients to socalize," says Dunn. And for many, the unexpected benefits of mingling highly outweigh the extra effort it takes to be amiable, she adds.
"People simply don't seem to appreciate how good it feels to put their best face forward," says Dunn. "And trying to reinstate that positive self-presentation that eventually gets lost with a romantic partner might actually be helpful for the relationship."