Sharing an experience makes it more intense (or why to go to the dentist alone)

New research suggests that sharing an experience (whether good or bad) with someone else makes it more intense. And that’s true if you don’t know or even talk to the person you experience it with.

Researchers from Yale University recruited 23 female students for an experiment where they paired them with a member of the research team (although they presented that person as another student). Each person was given chocolate to taste, once while the other person looked at a booklet, once at the same time as the other person. The chocolate was presented as being from two different blocks, but was actually identical. However, participants consistently picked the one they ate at the same time as the member of the research team as tasting the best.

This might suggest that sharing an experience with someone makes it more pleasant, but that’s not the case. When another group of students duplicated the experiment with a very bitter dark chocolate that they all found unpleasant, they reported the worst-tasting block to be the one they ate at the same time as the other person (even though, again, both chocolates were the same).

In their paper, which is published in Psychological Science, the researchers conclude that sharing experiences increases their intensity, but is more likely to enhance what you feel naturally. They believe that the joint focus makes us stay in the moment so we fully experience it, for better or worse. So if you’re going through something stressful, it could be the case that taking a friend along for moral support will actually make you more anxious. Or it could just be that people have really strong feelings about chocolate.

By SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via Wikimedia Commons.

Diane Shipley