Teaching & Learning

Do Talk to Strangers

Reaching out can improve creativity, decision-making, and well-being.

Stav Atir

Atir: “If we fail to use our capacity for learning from others to its full extent, we’re shortchanging ourselves of the full human experience.” Paul L. Newby II

Between working from home, having groceries delivered, and banking online, it’s increasingly possible to conduct life without engaging face-to-face with another human being. The average person can mostly avoid conversation with strangers.

But it turns out that not talking to strangers can lead to poorer decision-making, less creativity, and diminished well-being, according to a study coauthored by Stav Atir, assistant professor of management at the Wisconsin School of Business. The study also suggests that we underestimate the potential for learning from those we casually interact with.

“Failing to accurately anticipate how much someone could teach you is consequential,” says Atir.

The study randomly paired strangers for a 10-minute conversation and compared how much they expected to learn before the conversation with how much they reported learning after the conversation. Participants consistently learned more than they expected, including understanding another’s perspective and acquiring advice or instruction on various topics.

Talking with others communicates norms, creates shared understanding, and conveys morality, among other benefits. “If we fail to use our capacity for learning from others to its full extent,” says Atir, “we’re short-changing ourselves of the full human experience.”

Published in the Winter 2022 issue


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