Reaching out to an old friend after a long time? Chances are they'll be glad to hear from you

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Wanting to reach out to a friend or loved one after a long time may induce feelings of anxiety and fear of rejection.
  • But a new study suggests quite the opposite – the recipient is likely to be appreciative.
  • Maintaining social connections is important for our well-being, and we need to reach out to other people.

We’ve all caught ourselves reminiscing about the past. It’s a natural part of our lives and can be beneficial. Sometimes, though, reaching out and connecting with an old friend is blocked by fear, anxiety and a feeling of awkwardness.

If this has happened to you, the researchers have comforting news. The person on the receiving end of your message or call will likely be more grateful than you expected. 

Their study, titled “The surprise of reaching out: appreciated more than we think”, was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In their paper, the authors write: “People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others. Sometimes, people reach out to others … Yet, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connection, do people accurately understand how much other people value being reached out to by someone in their social circle?”

They explain how, when people take the initiative to reach out, they risk being rejected. This fear could then keep them from doing so. After all, social rejection is a painful social experience that people try to avoid, given the fundamental need to belong and to feel socially connected with others, they explain.

How respondents rated their appreciation

To reach their conclusion, the researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh, carried out multiple experiments, based on hypothetical and real-life scenarios. More than 5 900 participants were involved in the study.

One of the experiments tasked individuals with writing a note to a fellow college student they hadn’t been in touch with for a while. Both the writer and recipient of the note were asked, by the researchers, to indicate how much they felt the message was appreciated.

On a seven-point scale, on average, the senders rated recipients’ appreciation at 5.57, while the recipients rated their appreciation at 6.17. 

The team said this and other experiments revealed that people receiving such messages appreciated them significantly more than the sender expected.

“We propose that people … do not understand the full extent to which their reach-outs are appreciated. Understanding the full extent to which their reach-outs are appreciated is important because it would likely contribute to people initiating social contact to the benefit of themselves and others,” they wrote.

Importance of being socially connected

A large body of evidence shows how crucial social interaction is to every aspect of human health. For example, South University in Georgia, US, points to research that shows having a “strong network of support or strong community bonds fosters both emotional and physical health and is an important component of adult life”. 

In the current study, the researchers write that “social connections with people in one’s life are essential to happiness and well-being”, but acknowledge that staying connected can be challenging, especially when considering the fast pace of modern life.  

But, importantly, their findings remove the notion that a recipient will not appreciate being reached out to. Lead author, Dr Peggy Liu, told The Guardian that the team now hopes to figure out how they can encourage people to reach out to others.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.