Your Friends Appreciate a Random Check-In Call or Text More Than You Realize

Staying in touch with both new and old friends can feel challenging, but a simple text is all it takes to make an impact, according to new research.

Woman Texting Friend
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Sometimes it feels like maintaining friendships has never been as complicated as it is right now, despite constant access to people's lives through social media. The COVID-19 pandemic has been linked to a rise in loneliness, while some have felt socially anxious about returning to in-person activities following strict quarantines and isolation over the last few years. The point is, keeping up friendships often requires effort, especially when distance, differing life stages, and shifting priorities are at work. When you add a pandemic into the mix, it only exacerbates the already tricky task of staying in touch with people, and sometimes sending a text or making a call to an acquaintance or even a close friend can feel like a lot of work. But if recent research is any indication, it's worth making the effort to check in on your friends.

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, which was published on July 1, 2022 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, determined that people appreciate unexpected check-ins more than most think. To come to this conclusion, the researchers conducted 13 experiments on more than 5,900 participants with a focus on monitoring simple social interactions.

For instance, in one experiment, researchers had a person reach out an acquaintance with whom they were "friendly." Other experiments involved a person reaching out to someone they considered to be a friend. Reaching out could be a quick call, text, email, or sending a small gift. Those who reached out were then asked to rate how happy they believed the recipient of their message would be. Then, the researchers asked the recipients how much they actually appreciated the check-in, and a pattern emerged. Those who reached out tended to underestimate the reaction to their casual check-in, while those on the other end of the line really appreciated their gesture, even more so when they hadn't heard from the initiator in a long time.

"Altogether, this research identifies a robust tendency to underestimate how much others appreciate being reached out to," wrote the researchers in the study, adding that the element of surprise for the recipients explains the disconnect in expected and actual reactions they observed. Discovering the root cause of this "underestimation" is important, as not knowing how much a simple call or text could mean to someone may deter people from reaching out, according to the researchers.

Right now, it's no secret social isolation is a major issue, as the researchers point out in their study. But according to their findings, maintaining friendships by way of those "just-because" texts, phone calls, and emails holds more value than you might imagine. Researchers hope this study helps people gain the confidence needed to reconnect with people now that many COVID-19 restrictions have lifted, they added in the study.

"For those treading back into the social milieu with caution and trepidation, feeling woefully out of practice and unsure, our work provides robust evidence and an encouraging green light to go ahead and surprise someone by reaching out. Such reach-outs are likely to be appreciated more than one thinks," concluded the study authors.

Think about it this way: Have you ever meant to text a friend, but decided not to for fear of wasting their time or not being appreciated? If so, maybe this research will provide the sway you need in order to send that text, make that phone call, send that gift, or pen that email in the future — because as people work to reconfigure their approach to keeping friendships alive, it's important to know that seemingly simple gestures can go a long way.

"I sometimes pause before reaching out to people from my pre-pandemic social circle for a variety of reasons," said the study's lead author, Peggy Liu, Ph.D., according to the study's abstract. "When that happens, I 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," she continued. "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 my reaching out to them."

Consider this your sign to reach out to someone you may not have connected with for a while. (Up Next: How to Make Friends As an Adult — and Why It's So Important for Your Health)

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