If you’re here because you heard/read about the talking to strangers scavenger hunt on NPR, I’m sorry to say that the app is no longer available 😦 (The NPR friendship piece originally went out in 2019) If you’d like to see the list of missions that were part of the game, you can find it here. If you’d like to read the scientific paper that we published about the scavenger hunt study (no paywall), you can find it here; sure, it’s an academic paper and there are some complicated statistics, but I think the narrative comes through! If you want a quick summary of the findings, check out a Twitter thread in which I shared the main findings.
I talk to strangers. Even on the Tube in London. I haven’t always done this, but I’ve always seen it – both of my parents regularly talk to strangers. I admit, I found it a bit embarrassing as a kid (“Dad – they’re not going to want to talk to you!”). And annoying: going grocery shopping with my Dad was torture, because it would take SOOOO long. My Mom chooses opportunities that allow her to convey support and inclusion: she compliments parents on their polite kids (because parenting is hard!), and chats with people who look different from her. Despite my embarrassment as a kid, I could see how much my parents enjoyed it, and how much the people they talked to enjoyed it. I also learned that you can develop skills; my Dad often uses the same opening lines, especially when talking to kids, because he’s learned that they get people smiling, and talking.
One of the first times I remember deliberately starting a chat with a stranger was on the subway in Toronto. It was at a time when there was a wave of amazing cupcake shops, and this lady on the subway was carrying a beautiful cupcake. I started talking about the cupcake, but ended up learning from her that people can ride ostriches! I was hooked. Since then I’ve had many adventures #Talking2Strangers, and I’ve made it a central topic of my research.
Department of Psychology
Email: g.sandstrom (at) sussex.ac.uk
University of Sussex