Feeling alone may have a negative effect on your overall well-being, according to a new study. Researchers found that new university students consistently think their peers have more friends and a more active social life than they have. Even when this is not the case, students who believe it to be true feel less accepted.
Ashley Whillans is an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who led the study while she was a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia.
“We know the size of your social networks has a significant effect on happiness and wellbeing,” said Whillans. “But our research shows that even mere beliefs you have about your peers’ social networks has an impact on your happiness.”
The research team collected data from a survey of over 1,000 first-year students at the University of British Columbia. Students reported how many friends they had made and estimated how many friends they believed their peers had made since the beginning of the school year. The study revealed that 48 percent of the students believed others had developed more close friendships, while 31 percent believed the opposite.
A second survey tracked 389 students until the end of their first year. The students who believed that they had less friends than their peers at the beginning of the year reported lower levels of wellbeing.
Senior author Frances Chen said that the public nature of social activities may explain why students feel their peers are doing better socially.
“Since social activities, like eating or studying with others, tend to happen in cafes and libraries where they are easily seen, students might overestimate how much their peers are socializing because they don’t see them eating and studying alone,” said Chen.
According to Chen, further research is needed to determine whether the same pattern exists in other circumstances, such as with new immigrants, people moving to a new city, or people starting a new job.
“These feelings and perceptions are probably the strongest when people first enter a new social environment, but most of us probably experience them at some point in our lives,” said Chen.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer