Want to Boost an Experience? Share It

Bringing a buddy along can help heighten an experience. (Photo: Brocreative/Shutterstock).

Do you prefer to see a movie in a theater with others more than watching one at home by yourself? Does sharing menu items when dining out bump up the fun? Are your book club tomes more pleasurable than those you read alone?

According to new research from Yale University, the answer to those questions is likely, “yes.”

Psychologist Erica Boothby and her colleagues looked into how sharing experiences affects the intensity of them. They found that people who perform tasks with another person rate those events as more pleasant than when performed alone. And it doesn’t matter if the experience is shared in silence or even with a stranger.

“We often think that what matters in social life is being together with others, but we’ve found it also really matters what those people are doing,” Said Boothby. “When people are paying attention to the same pleasant thing, whether the 'Mona Lisa,' or a song on the radio, our research shows that the experience is much more pleasurable.”

And the reverse holds true as well. Not sharing an unpleasant experience makes it more pleasurable, while sharing it can make you perceive it as worse.

The team took 23 college students and paired them with researchers; the students thought their partners were other study participants. They performed various tasks together and apart — even tasks like tasting chocolate. In that scenario, participants reported preferring the chocolate they had tasted with someone else vs. the one they tasted alone, although the chocolate was identical, suggesting that the simple act of sharing can have influence over how we perceive things.

The researchers then worked with another group to investigate what happens with unpleasant experiences. The students were asked to taste bitter, 90 percent dark chocolate. This time, the students said that they liked the chocolate that was eaten in the company of another less, suggesting that unpleasant experiences were also intensified when shared.

The students also reported feeling more engaged in the tasting experience and more aligned with the other participant when they ate the chocolate together. The team says that sharing an experience with someone else, even when nothing is spoken, may help to focus us and help us be more attuned to what we sense and perceive.

“When people think of shared experience, what usually comes to mind is being with close others, such as friends or family, and talking with them,” said Boothby. “We don’t realize the extent to which we are influenced by people around us whom we don’t know and aren't even communicating with.”

In a world of increasing distractions, the findings could pose significant implications for how we attend to our social lives.

“We text friends while at a party, check our Twitter feed while out to dinner, and play Sudoku while watching TV with family — without meaning to, we are un-sharing experiences with the people around us,” said Boothby. “A pleasant experience that goes unshared is a missed opportunity to focus on the activity we and others are doing and give it a boost.”