On Friday 13th June, passengers across Britain’s transport services were encouraged to do something unusual that they wouldn’t normally dream of – to strike up conversations with other commuters.
This was part of experiment being conducted by the BBC to see if having more interactions with strangers would affect people’s moods.
Virgin West Coast trains on routes between London, Manchester and Glasgow were used, with every carriage C being transformed into the “chat carriage”.
Arriva buses were handing out ‘conversation starter’ cards to their passengers, and were encouraging them to ‘share a smile’ with fellow commuters.
The Go Ahead group, which includes Southern and Southeastern trains, National Express Coaches, Transport for London also took part in the experiment.
This experiment was inspired by 2014 study which took place in Chicago which concluded that people very much underestimate the positive impact that conversations with strangers can have.
Most of us dread the thought of being stuck beside an overly talkative commuter, first thing in the morning, who won’t keep quiet when all you want to do is switch off and enjoy the ride in silence.
Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, the behavioural scientists involved in the experiment, found this to be true when they asked commuters whether they thought talking to strangers would result in a better or worse trip – most people thought it would be worse.
However, the results proved the majority wrong – the people who had the happiest trips were the ones who had conversations with others, as opposed to sitting alone on their phone or reading the newspaper.
In a blog article for the BBC, Dr Epley Wrote:
“The experience of talking with others and hearing a stranger’s voice makes us realise they have a rich inner life of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences, just like us. These brief connections with strangers are Not likely to turn a life of misery into one of bliss. However, they can change unpleasant moments, like the grind of a daily commute, into something more pleasant.”
Friday’s experiment is part of the BBC’s Crossing Divides season which tackles issues such as polarization and isolation.
So, it’s worth bearing in mind that simply making the effort to have a conversation with a stranger could make you both happier.
We look forward to seeing the full results of the experiment when it reaches our screens.