The Research Behind
Skip the Small Talk

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Skip the Small Talk aims to reduce loneliness, improve physiological and psychological health, and enhance the quality of interpersonal interactions through research-supported techniques. The studies cited here represent only a fraction of the research that goes into any given Skip the Small Talk, but offer the critical base for these events.

For further learning, you can also refer to the original sources from our references list.

 

reducing loneliness

 

Research indicates that loneliness leads to a host of negative psychological and physiological outcomes, including, but not limited to, diminished cardiovascular functioning; impaired immune functioning; hypertension; worsened sleep quality; cognitive impairment; depressive symptoms including suicidality; decreased ability to self-regulate thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; diminished participation in physical activities; and lower likelihood of engaging in other behaviors that maintain physical health (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Problematically, a rise in technology use has led to a greater sense of social isolation (Turkle, 2011). Even as our social networks offer us greater connection quantity, the quality of those connections are more relevant to our perceptions of loneliness than quantity (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008).

 

According to a meta-analysis on interventions for loneliness by Masi, Chen, Hawkley, and Cacioppo (2010), the type of intervention that most decreased loneliness were those that addressed maladaptive social cognitions. This kind of intervention was even more successful in decreasing loneliness than interventions that enhanced social skills, interventions that improved social support, and interventions that offered opportunities for social contact, although all of those were found to be effective, as well.

 

Skip the Small Talk therefore incorporates all of those strategies, with an emphasis on correcting maladaptive social cognitions. For instance, Skip the Small Talk events include a portion where attendees anonymously report how comfortable they felt with how much they shared in a conversation and how comfortable they felt with how much their partner shared. When this data is reported back to the group as a whole, many are surprised at the fact that in every single Skip the Small Talk event to date, zero people have reported feeling that their partner has overshared. Hearing this outcome helps to correct false beliefs that might inhibit connection with others, and can have lasting effects beyond individual Skip the Small Talk events.

 

Moreover, Skip the Small Talk addresses loneliness by improving social skills. In addition to incorporating focused listening, the structure of Skip the Small Talk events includes practicing self-disclosure and question-asking, both of which are actions positively associated with affinity (Collins & Miller, 1994) (Sprecher, Treger, & Wondra, 2012) (Huang, Yeomans, Brooks, Minson, & Gino, 2016). Skip the Small Talk offers opportunities for social contact and chances for continued social support by creating authentic interactions that can serve as groundwork for future supportive relationships.

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encouraging self-disclosure

 

Skip the Small Talk fosters interpersonal closeness using a model tested by Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, and Bator (1997), in which participants who asked each other increasingly personal questions reported feeling significantly closer to one another, as compared to participants engaged in a small talk task. Similarly, in a Skip the Small Talk event, conversations are based around questions—provided by the facilitator—that encourage discussion about meaningful topics inspired by Aron et al.’s study. However, Skip the Small Talk attendees are offered agency in which questions they answer, and are allowed to stop any conversation at any time so that each individual can cater the degree of self-disclosure to their comfort level. Skip the Small Talk events open with encouragement to push one’s own comfort zone, framed in language to encourage healthy boundaries, so attendees can make more effective decisions about how much to disclose at any given time.

 

The benefits of self-disclosure stretch beyond fostering interpersonal closeness; self-disclosure increases individual well-being. Four studies by Gable, Reis, Impett, and Asher (2004) indicated that increased sharing of positive experiences was associated with an increase of positive affect and emotional wellbeing above and beyond the positive effects of the event, itself.  This effect is evidently not relegated only to the sharing of positive experience. In a study by Pennebaker and O’Heeron, spouses of suicide and accidental death victims who discussed their experience with friends more experienced fewer health problems than those who did not discuss their spouse’s death as much.  And, importantly, these effects were independent of the number of friends that participants reported having.

 

Skip the Small Talk takes from both of these sets of findings and encourages both positive and negative self-disclosure. For instance, Skip the Small Talk events often begin with a variation of a “How are you?” question that gets at how people are actually feeling, while minimizing the urge to answer with a positive but thoughtless nicety. This exercise of honest sharing helps attendees practice healthy self-disclosure in a setting that feels safe due to the emphasis on boundaries.

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practicing mindfulness

 

Another tool used in Skip the Small Talk to encourage better social habits is mindfulness. A study by Liu, Wang, Chang, Chen, and Si (2012) suggests that even when not administered by a therapist, mindfulness interventions can increase one’s ability to withstand aversive states. Mindfulness skills can help people cope more easily with emotions that arise during conflict—such as frustration and irritation—as well as those emotions that lie outside the realm of conflict—such as boredom—which can lead to better decision-making, better moral reasoning, and improved well-being (Shapiro, Jazaieri, & Goldin, 2012) (Brown & Ryan, 2003). At Skip the Small Talk events, attendees are encouraged to notice emotions as they arise and allow those emotions to pass at their natural pace instead of attempting to suppress them. Attendees have reported that this mindfulness practice helps them interact more comfortably with people of different viewpoints, and that even after Skip the Small Talks, they can more effectively cope with feelings that arise from challenging conversations.

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references

 

Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E.N., Vallone, R.D., & Bator, R.J. (1997). The experimental
generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.

Brown, K.W., & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822.

Cacioppo, J.T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Collins, N.L., & Miller, L.C. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116(3), 457-475.

Gable, S.L., Reise, H.T., Impett, E.A., & Asher, E.R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of personality and social psychology, 87(2), 228-245.

Hawkley, L.C. & Cacioppo, J.T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218-227.

Huang, K., Yeomans, M., Brooks, A.W., Minson, J., & Gino, F. (2017). It doesn’t hurt to ask: Question-asking increases liking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Liu, X., Wang, S., Chang, S., Chen, W., & Si, M. (2013). Effect of brief mindfulness intervention on tolerance and distress of pain induced by cold-pressor task. Stress and Health, 29(3), 199-204.

Masi, C.M., Chen, H-Y, Hawkley, L.C., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2011) A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Personality and Social Psychology review, 15(3), 219-266.

Pennebaker, J.W., & O’Heeron, R.C. (1984). Confiding in others and illness rate among spouses of suicide and accidental-death victims. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93(4), 473-6.

Shapiro, S.L., Jazaieri, H., & Goldin, P.R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(6), 504-515.

Sprecher, S., Treger, S., & Wondra, J.D. (2013). Effects of self-disclosure role on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(4), 497-514.

Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

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If you wish to discuss how we might be able to use the existing research to create a customized event for you, your school, your office, or anywhere else, please feel free to contact founder Ashley Kirsner at Ashley@SkiptheSmallTalk.org.