What is it about?

We wondered why people lose touch with each other and fail to reconnect by reaching out. We thought that one reason might be that people underestimate how much others appreciate their reach-outs. We conducted a series of experiments testing our prediction that people would underestimate how much others appreciate being reached out to. In some of our experiments, we approached people on college campuses and asked them to write a note to a classmate with whom they hadn't been in contact in awhile. We then asked them how much they thought their classmate would appreciate being reached out to. We then delivered this note to the person they reached out to and asked them how much they appreciated being reached out to. We also conducted similar experiments with non-student samples and with reach-outs consisting of small gifts, instead of just notes. We kept finding that people underestimated how much their reach-outs were appreciated. We also found that one reason this underestimation of appreciation occurs is that people do not think enough about how positively surprised others feel upon being reached out to. The role of surprise is important. We found that the one situation in which people do not underestimate how much others appreciate being reached out is when the reach-out occurs in an unsurprising context. For example, if someone is expecting you to reach-out to them, then you are pretty well calibrated to how much they will actually appreciate you reaching out to them. Thus, it's really these unexpected reach-outs that people appreciate much more than we expect.

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Why is it important?

Many people have lost touch with others in their lives, whether it be friends from high school or college or co-workers they used to see at the water cooler before they went remote. Despite wanting to reconnect, many people are hesitant about doing so. This research suggests that their hesitations may be misplaced, as others are likely to appreciate being reached out to more than people think. Given that there is so much research suggesting that maintaining our social connections with others is beneficial for mental and physical health, we hope that that these findings will encourage more people to reach-out to those with whom they have lost touch.


When I find myself hesitating to reach out to someone with whom I want to reconnect, I think it's useful to think about these research findings and remind myself that other people may also want to reach out to me and hesitate for the same reasons. I then tell myself that I would appreciate it so much if they reached out to me and that there is no reason to think they would not similarly appreciate me reaching out to them.

Peggy Liu
University of Pittsburgh

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The surprise of reaching out: Appreciated more than we think., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000402.
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