How easy is it to interact with random people on the street? Is it really necessary? Is simple eye contact enough to feel more comfortable around strangers or should it be more? or less?
Atlantic Cities posted an interesting summary today on a recent study out of Purdue University where a number of random passersby were approached and asked about how connected they felt with fellow passersby. The lead author on the study explains: “Because social connections are fundamental to survival, researchers argue that humans evolved systems to detect the slightest cues of inclusion or exclusion. For example, simple eye contact is sufficient to convey inclusion. In contrast, withholding eye contact can signal exclusion. … Even though one person looks in the general direction of another, no eye contact is made, and the latter feels invisible.”
The following graph gives a summary of the results:
“The people who were given an ‘air gaze’ (or no eye contact) felt the most disconnected. On the other hand, the people who received eye contact and a smile felt the least disconnected of anyone studied.” Simple acknowledgement between strangers easily brings the slightest bit of community between people, which is healthy for those individuals, but also our neighborhoods, and our cities! The lead author notes: “It is reasonable to assume that context may influence the effects of both acknowledgment and being given the “air-gaze” (looked at as if one doesn’t exist). If one is in a community where the social norm is to politely greet everyone, then these effects may be intensified. In large cities where these interactions are less common, the effects may be tempered.” So, have larger urban atmospheres softened our reactions to others around us? It seems so. What can cities do to alleviate this? To keep that simple community alive and fresh?
As much as I wish everyone was friendly with fellow neighbors on the street, I know that not everyone can or wants to be, and I know most times, I just want to listen to my headphones and tune out the world as well. But this study proves the simple eye contact, and maybe a ‘hello’ can make a world of a difference!