The Importance of Weak Ties

Even low level social interactions can make you feel better.

Posted Sep 30, 2018

Close relationships are essential to human happiness. But what about the more mundane interactions we have in our daily lives, often with people we know little, if at all? This was the research question put forward by psychologists at the University of British Columbia.

In Study 1, American students kept track of the number of interactions with classmates they had for one semester and then reported their well being at selected times via text message. The results were that students tended to be happier on days they had more interactions with classmates. This was the case whether these ties were "weak" (with people you do not know very well) or "strong." 

In Study 2, weak ties were again associated with more psychological well-being, though they were not related with feelings of belonging. This was the case when looking at a person and comparing their weak tie numbers across days, and when comparing people with a high level of weak ties to people with a low number of weak ties. These results also held when controlling for extroversion and the number of strong ties a person has (the latter was related to both well-being and feeling like you belong).

It appears that even casual conversations with people we don't know that well are related to more psychological well being. However, I think it is important to note we do not know the direction this works as of now. It could be that weak ties make people happier. But it could also be that happier people have higher numbers of weak ties.

References

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: The surprising power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910-922.