Six Reasons to Talk to Strangers

February 02, 2018

Forget what Momma told you. Whether you’re traveling a foreign country or navigating the wilds of a neighborhood party, talking to strangers is fun and beneficial. Here are six reasons to do it, and do it often.


1. It’s good for your heart. 

A 2015 study by the University of Michigan analyzed four years of data from 5,276 introverted Canadians, and found that heart problems were most common among the most alienated. The study advocated for “neighborhood social cohesion” as a health prerogative.

On a 7-point scale, the author told The Atlantic "each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks."

In other words, reflects Business Insider’s Chris Weller, “you don't even need to have a strong community to reap the health benefits. You just need to feel like you do. If your brain is convinced you belong, your heart is likely to agree.”


2. It wakes you up.

Standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for a table at a restaurant is zombie work. Any bot can do it.

In her book, "When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You," author Kio Stark, an adjunct faculty member at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, writes:

"Talking to a stranger is, at its best, an exquisite interruption of what you were expecting to happen when you walked down the street or rode on a bus…” Stark writes. "When something unexpected happens, it calls you to full attention, turns your awareness outward to the world. You are awake.


3. It’ll make you happier.

Chicago researchers Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroder did nine studies asking frequent commuters to engage in one of three behaviors while riding the elevated train: Ride without speaking to anyone, talk to strangers along the way, or behave normally.

What a surprise: “Participants in the connection condition reported having a significantly more positive experience than participants in the solitude condition.” 


4. People like to talk.

What is surprising about the Chicago study, “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude,” is that most participants in the study mistakenly expected that having to talk to strangers would be unwelcome, uncomfortable, awkward, and less pleasant than riding in solitude. In short, we’re still scared of rejection, just like when we were adolescents. Turns out, we’ve got it all wrong. Most people welcome the intrusion.’


5. You might discover something.

Striking up a conversation with a stranger while traveling is likely to yield unexpected tips about the region, the weather, local politics, or cultural norms.

Ask a stranger what they’re reading, and they might just wake you later, in the middle of the night, just to share the passing view of a glorious moonlit lake view from the train window, as happened to Kio Stark in Italy once.

Stark says we should invite such opportunities: Ditch the phone, ditch the map, and let strangers tell you how to spend your day, she says. Your likelihood of discovering such magical moments will skyrocket.


6. It makes the world safer.

To hear Trump talk, the world is full of bad hombres and germ-laden terrorists from sh*thole countries. The more we hear those perverse opinions repeated, the more we believe it. Some even start stocking guns in response. When I smile and share my gum with the strangers around me on an airplane, I sometimes wonder if I may be innocently defusing a hijacking. Together, we have the power to debunk all kinds of misguided xenophobias, if we just show our humanity once in a while.

I know what you’re thinking: “Todd, this is all easy for you to say, from the comfy privilege of your overconfident white heterosexual maleness.”

Fair enough. Maybe it is.

Or maybe being on this planet in the first place, in such close proximity to so many amazing human beings, is a privilege we all share, and can no longer afford not to exploit.




Tell us about a time you talked to strangers and how it changed your life. Etc


2 Responses

Catherine Oliver
Catherine Oliver

August 28, 2018

My husband says I can find out more about someone in ten minutes than he can in ten years. I love talking to strangers and probably do it every day. I find the human creature endlessly fascinating. We travel a good bit with some of it outside the country. My Spanish and Portuguese suck but I try and people appreciate it. Please, everyone, go for it. You’ll never regret it!

Rosa Damdouanthavong
Rosa Damdouanthavong

August 28, 2018

I just completed my first solo trip to Hong Kong and Bangkok. I was very nervous and still a little scared. My first day in Hong Kong I met a couple from the UK who told me how brave it was of me to travel alone especially as a female. They kept me company for several hours. I met a another young lady who was traveling alone and she gave me pointers. I also met a man who was born in Hong King but now resides in Seattle who made sure I got to the correct train and he even paid for my fare. He reminded me not to walk alone at night. Met some guys in Bangkok and we shared our travel stories while drinking along the riverside. Meeting all of them were one of the highlights of my trip.

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