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Why Life’s Better When We’re Together

Study shows that daily experiences are indeed sweeter when shared.

Why do we prefer seeing a movie while accompanied by a friend? Why do we pack ourselves into stadiums and concert halls to sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers? And why does a sunset seem so sublime when the moment is shared with someone without even saying a word?

A fascinating study led by Yale psychologists Erica Boothby, John Bargh, and Margaret Clark demonstrated that life is indeed sweeter when we share in our experiences. The researchers set out to find out whether or not sharing an experience with others changes the way people experience things in daily life.

In the study, research participants rated a pleasant-tasting chocolate as more likeable and flavorful when another individual they didn’t know was eating the same chocolate at the same time -- even though they didn’t communicate with each other. Similarly, the researchers found that when participants tasted an unpleasant-tasting chocolate, they were more likely to dislike the experience when another person next to them was eating the same bitter chocolate. The researchers concluded that “sharing an experience with another person, without communicating, amplifies one’s experience. Both pleasant and unpleasant experiences were more intense when shared.”

As Boothby explains, “When people think of shared experience, what usually comes to mind is being with close others, such as friends or family, and talking with them. We don’t realize the extent to which we are influenced by people around us whom we don’t know and aren’t even communicating with.”

The authors suggested that this amplification might be caused by a heightened attention to a stimulus when others are also focused on the same thing. But dividing one’s attention can also result in a decreased focus in attention. So is there another reason for this to happen?

Perhaps empathy may be in play here through the imagined experiences of others. The researchers also hypothesized that it is plausible that we see the world not only through our eyes (and taste buds) but also through the additive lens of those around us. As Clark put it, “there may be something to seeing the world through another person’s eyes. When you and a partner experience something together, it may add to your own experience.” The study published in Psychological Science reports that “people may be built to automatically imagine or simulate how other people see, hear, smell, taste, and feel things, and these imaginings or simulations could affect people’s own perceptions.”

So the next time you are out having fun with others in real life, put down your smart phone and share the moment instead of sharing your posts on Facebook. As Boothby puts it, “A pleasant experience that goes unshared is a missed opportunity to focus on the activity we and others are doing and give it a boost.”

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