Stranger Things


The mental health problem in veterinary medicine is multi-layered. There are aspects at the individual level that must be handled. Individuals have the responsibility to do things to take care of themselves to prevent and treat the symptoms of mental health issues. Institutions have the responsibility to try to reduce the causes of a lot of mental health problems: decrease the institutionalized stigma, try to limit student debt, and help students find ways to minimize stress.

Somewhere in between those layers, there is a responsibility that individuals have to one another to take care of each other. I recently read about a psychological study that raised an interesting point about this topic. The abstract says it best:

Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other. Why? Two reasons seem likely: Either solitude is a more positive experience than interacting with strangers, or people misunderstand the consequences of distant social connections. To examine the experience of connecting to strangers, we instructed commuters on trains and buses to connect with a stranger near them, to remain disconnected, or to commute as normal (Experiments 1a and 2a). In both contexts, participants reported a more positive (and no less productive) experience when they connected than when they did not. Separate participants in each context, however, expected precisely the opposite outcome, predicting a more positive experience in solitude (Experiments 1b and 2b). This mistaken preference for solitude stems partly from underestimating others’ interest in connecting (Experiments 3a and 3b), which in turn keeps people from learning the actual consequences of social interaction (Experiments 4a and 4b). The pleasure of connection seems contagious: In a laboratory waiting room, participants who were talked to had equally positive experiences as those instructed to talk (Experiment 5). Human beings are social animals. Those who misunderstand the consequences of social interactions may not, in at least some contexts, be social enough for their own well-being. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

So people like interacting with each other, but don’t? That seems so upside down.

This study, called Mistakenly seeking solitude, shows the other side of the coin to a post I wrote a few months ago about seeking solitude. I encouraged people to take time for quiet and reflection. Everyone needs that in some amount. However, everyone also needs time with other people, and this study shows how hard that can be.

I transferred veterinary schools in my second semester, and I know I definitely felt invisible barriers to meeting my new classmates. I felt that people were busy, had their own lives, and didn’t want to meet, but this paper shows that maybe people felt the same way about me. I felt feelings of loneliness that other people probably also felt, and the funniest part is it never had to be like that.

I encourage you to think about this, and maybe to try reaching out and connecting to someone you never have before. Even if you think you won’t enjoy it, this paper shows that you probably will and so will the person you talk with. Don’t let your shyness stop you. If you have any thoughts, share your experience in the comments!

Thought of the Week:
Do you think it is scary to interact with strangers? Do you enjoy when you do? Are your answers to both of these question consistent?

Ideas:
I like the idea of talking with strangers but in practice I don’t
I am scared of talking to strangers but when I do I enjoy it
What strangers? If they are a stranger, they are not one for long
??? (post in comments)

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