The surprise of reaching out: Appreciated more than we think

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2022 Jul 11. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000402. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others. Sometimes, people reach out to others-whether simply to check-in on how others are doing with brief messages or to show that they are thinking of others by sending small gifts to them. 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? Across a series of preregistered experiments, we document a robust underestimation of how much other people appreciate being reached out to. We find evidence compatible with an account wherein one reason this underestimation of appreciation occurs is because responders (vs. initiators) are more focused on their feelings of surprise at being reached out to. A focus on feelings of surprise in turn predicts greater appreciation. We further identify process-consistent moderators of the underestimation of reach-out appreciation, finding that it is magnified when the reach-out context is more surprising: when it occurs within a surprising (vs. unsurprising) context for the recipient and when it occurs between more socially distant (vs. socially close) others. Altogether, this research thus identifies when and why we underestimate how much other people appreciate us reaching out to them, implicating a heightened focus on feelings of surprise as one underlying explanation. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).