UBC Theses and Dissertations
Social interactions and well-being : the surprising power of weak ties Sandstrom, Gillian M.
Can acquaintances contribute to our happiness, or are they inconsequential compared to close friends and family? This dissertation expands the focus of study within social psychology, which has been almost exclusively directed towards strong ties, to include examination of weak ties (i.e., acquaintances). A broad sample of Americans reported the number of weak ties they had in their social network, and rated their own happiness (Study 1). People with more weak tie relationships reported being happier. Switching the focus from social relationships to social interactions, students kept track of their interactions with weak tie classmates during a particular class, and reported their happiness after class (Study 2). During classes when they had more interactions with weak tie classmates than usual, they were happier. Expanding the scope to include all daily interactions, students kept track of their interactions with weak ties (Study 3). As before, on days when they had more interactions with weak ties than usual, they were happier. Given that people trim their social networks as they age, and interact with fewer acquaintances starting in their late teens, we replicated this study with a community sample (Study 4). People again reported positive consequences on days when they interacted with more weak ties. The last two studies were experimental, rather than correlational. In a field study at Starbucks, people who were assigned to have a genuine social interaction with the cashier, thus treating them more like a weak tie than a stranger, experienced a more positive mood than people who were assigned to have an efficient interaction with the cashier (Study 5). Finally, participants were instructed to increase the number of daily weak tie interactions for ten days, to test whether this would cause sustained increases in happiness (Study 6). Although people experienced an increase in flourishing, and reported a somewhat greater decrease in loneliness over time than people in the control condition, there were no broad changes in happiness or belonging. These studies – the first in social psychology to explicitly focus on weak ties – consistently find a relationship between weak ties and happiness.
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