Socializing promotes health, well-being, and longevity and a new 30-year study from the University of Rochester underlines this point with a magic marker. Your popularity at 20 can benefit your well-being later in life, the researchers discovered, but only if you develop quality relationships at age 30.

To understand how different social styles affect our well-being, the researchers enlisted the help of 133 people who had participated in the Rochester-Interaction Record (RIR) study way back in the 1970s. The RIR was designed, in part, by Dr. Harry Reis, a professor of psychology and coauthor of the current study. The RIR used a so-called “diary” technique to examine social activity as it occurs spontaneously in everyday life. Though uncommon 40 years ago, this method is frequently used today because it lessens the impact of flawed memories and inherent biases that appear when people “remember” the past.

For the RIR study, the participants tracked their social interactions in diaries, rating encounters lasting 10 minutes or more on intimacy, pleasantness, and satisfaction at ages 20 and 30.

Then, 20 years after their final diary entry, Reis and his co-researchers returned to these participants and asked the now 50-year-olds to fill out an online survey about the quality of their social lives and emotional well-being. Questions tracked their loneliness, depression, and quality of relationships with close friends.

Results from this new study “supported the hypothesis that the quantity (but not the quality) of social interactions at age 20, and the quality (but not the quantity) of social interactions at age 30 predict midlife psychosocial outcomes,” the researchers noted.

The sheer quantity of social interactions had a direct, unmediated effect on participants’ social and psychological outcomes at age 50.  Frequent social interactions taking place during the college years appeared to help participants build their social tool sets and helped them to figure out who they are, the researchers said.

On the other hand, the later effects of these age-20 interactions were mediated by the quality of their age-30 interactions. The 30-year-olds with quality relationships — defined as intimate and satisfying — also reported high levels of well-being at midlife. Meaningful socializing is beneficial at any age, but the researchers discovered it had greater impact on future health when it occurred at age 30 compared to age 20. And, a high quantity of social interactions at age 30 did not provide psychosocial benefits at midlife.

Finally, the most socially active 20-year-olds did not necessarily develop quality relationships at age 30, the researchers discovered.

Considering how much happens over 30 years, “it is extraordinary that there appears to be a relationship between the kinds of interactions college students and young adults have and their emotional health later in life,” Dr. Cheryl Carmichael, lead author and assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College, stated in a press release.

Source:  Carmichael CL, Reis HT, Duberstein PR. In your 20s it’s quantity, in your 30s it’s quality: The prognostic value of social activity across 30 years of adulthood. Psychology and Aging. 2015.