Reaching Out To Friends 'Just Because' More Appreciated Than We Think: Study

Hesitating to reach out to a friend you haven't contacted in a while? Friends actually appreciate being reached out to more than people might think, a new study has found.

For their study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers conducted a series of experiments involving more than 5,900 individuals to figure out whether people actually estimate accurately how much others appreciate their attempts to reach out.

"We propose that people underestimate how much others appreciate being reached out to by others," researchers wrote. "Examining whether people underestimate how much others value their attempts to reach out is important because underestimation may deter people from reaching out as often as would benefit themselves and others."

In one of the experiments, half of the participants recalled a time they reached out to peers "just because" or simply to catch up, for instance via a text or a phone call, after a long time of not being in touch, the American Psychological Association (APA) noted in a news release.

"We define 'reaching out' broadly to involve a minimum criterion consisting of a gesture to check-in with someone to show that one is thinking about them — for instance, by sending a short message (e.g., to say hi, to say 'I'm thinking of you,' to say 'I hope you are well') or a small gift," the researchers explained.

The participants then rated how much they think the recipient "appreciated, felt grateful, felt thankful or felt pleased" with the contact on a scale of one to seven, with one being "not at all" and seven being "to a great extent."

The other half of the participants instead had to recall a time when they were the recipient of such a gesture and rated it on the same scale. Results showed that the ones who made contact (initiators) thought that the gesture was "appreciated significantly less" than the recipients (responders) of the gesture did.

In another experiment, participants sent a small gift or note to someone they hadn't been in contact with for a while and also rated how much they thought the recipient appreciated the gesture using the seven-point scale. The recipients also had to rate their appreciation, the APA noted.

The results were similar to the other experiment in that the initiators "significantly underestimated" the recipients' appreciation of the reach-outs compared to the responders' actual appreciation.

In total, the researchers conducted 13 preregistered studies, nine of which were the main experiments and four were supplemental.

"Across a series of preregistered studies, initiators underestimated the extent to which responders appreciate their act of reaching out," the researchers wrote.

Simply put, people generally tend to underestimate how much their peers appreciate it when they reach out to them. According to the researchers, one possible explanation for the recipients' appreciation is the element of surprise, which the responders tend to focus on more than the initiators do.

"(T)his heightened focus on surprise predicts higher appreciation," they wrote.

As the researchers noted, it may feel rather daunting to contact someone after a long period of time, in part because of the uncertainty of how the person may react or receive the effort. However, the results of their findings show that it's likely taken more positively than we think.

"When people take the initiative to reach out, they risk being rejected, and this worry could keep them from reaching out in the first place," they wrote.

"Our findings take some of this challenge out by demonstrating that responders highly appreciate being reached out to and that initiators in fact systematically underestimate the extent of this appreciation," they added. "In this way, we hope that our findings will encourage people to reach out to their social contacts more often, 'just because' Such small gestures are likely to be appreciated more than people predict."

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