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Surprising Science

For Fear of Being Judged, People Resist Having Experiences Alone

Researchers make a case for why you should go to the movies alone. They say you’ll have just as much fun as if you went with a group — don’t miss out on life just because you can’t find someone to go with you.

People don’t like going to a movie or dinner alone — I’ve done it, and found the experience to be quite freeing. Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with it, but when I tell my friends it’s OK to go to events alone, they become frozen by the thought of others judging them — thinking they couldn’t find any friends to accompany them is a strong deterrent for missing out on an experience. But these same people will often go to a coffee shop alone to type on their laptop or read a book, and yet these fears of judgment don’t apply in these scenarios. Why?

Jesse Singal from NYMag writes on a study, co-authored by Rebecca Ratner and Rebecca Hamilton of the University of Maryland and Georgetown business schools that answers just this question. Through a series of surveys and experiments, they consistently found that “[c]onsumers worry that if they engage in activities alone, observers will infer that they could not find friends to accompany them.”

Watch our expert Sherry Turkle discuss the value of solitude:

The only comfort to going into situations alone was to introduce things “that reduce the degree to which an activity is perceived as hedonic (e.g., reading a book while at a coffee shop) or reduce the anticipated number of observers [which increased] interest in engaging in public activities alone.” It’s astounding to think that working on that screenplay in a coffee shop acts as a metal barrier toward fears of judgment. When most of us regularly make jokes about people who work on their laptop in a coffee shop (something I’m guilty of on both counts).

Ratner explained in an interview with NYMag:

“So many people are getting married later or are in dual-career families where one person is watching the kids at night. You can’t always be going out with people.”  

But the second half of people’s fear in going to an event alone is that they’ll have less fun, which just isn’t true. In one of her experiments, the researchers recruited students on campus — some alone, some with a group — to come to an art gallery for five to 10 minutes. The unknowing participants were asked if they expected to have fun. Unsurprisingly, the people going it alone anticipated having a worse time than those accompanied by a group. But when they gave an exit rating for their experience, the people going solo had no less fun than those going with a group.

The researchers write that this experiment “provides empirical support for a key premise of our investigation: Consumers who forego hedonic activities alone are missing out on opportunities for rewarding experiences.”

Even with this information at hand, the idea of going to a restaurant without work or a book in-hand seems a bit off to me. But just keep in mind that going to events alone opens up the opportunity to meet new people.

Read more at NYMag.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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