When people are told to imagine that an event is going to happen to them and to a friend (e.g., winning $100), people prefer that they and their friend experience these events at the same time rather than on different days. The findings, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, suggest that this effect stems from a desire for interpersonal connection.
Studies on hedonic editing have shown that people prefer to segregate both gains and losses that happen in their lives, preferring multiple events to occur on different days rather than on the same day. For example, people would rather receive two fines on different days than receive both fines on the same day. Similarly, people would rather win two lotteries on separate occasions than win two lotteries on the same day.
But study authors Franklin Shaddy and his team wanted to explore whether people would similarly choose to separate the timing of a pair of events when one of the events is happening to a friend (e.g., a person wins $50, their friend also wins $50). The researchers wondered whether people might instead choose to experience an event at the same time as their friend, in order to boost social connection and potentially increase happiness. They tested this with a series of experimental studies.
An initial study found evidence for this theory, showing that the majority of participants preferred that they and a friend receive surprise messages from a celebrity on the same day versus on different days. Also in line with the researchers’ predictions, an additional study found that people were more likely to want a pair of events to happen on the same day when the pair of events was happening to them and to a friend (self-other) versus only to themselves (self-self).
For example, in the self-other condition, one pair of events described the participant winning $50 in a lottery and their friend winning $100 in a lottery. In the self-self condition, a pair of events described the participant winning $50 and then winning another $100. Among three different samples, participants who were faced with events happening to them and to their friend felt they would be happiest when the events were on the same day versus on different days. This group was significantly more likely to choose the same day option compared to the group who was asked about events happening only to themselves.
“In this research, we explored social hedonic editing, finding that people prefer integrating (vs. segregating) events that happen to the self and to others, both overall and relative to events that happen to the self,” the authors of the study wrote. “This occurs, in part, because people desire the interpersonal connection facilitated by integration — but only as long as events are not emotionally overwhelming.”
A follow-up study further found that people were more likely to want to synchronize the timing of events with another person when they liked that person than when they disliked them. They also preferred to sync up events with someone with the same political beliefs as them over someone who did not share their beliefs. Moreover, the desire for connection mediated this relationship between political belief and the desire to experience events at the same time.
These findings fall in line with the authors’ idea that people choose to sync the timing of events with others in order to increase social connection. When an event is happening to someone a person dislikes or wants to dissociate with, the desire to increase social connection is no longer there. Therefore, syncing the timing of events is no longer appealing.
These findings suggest that coordinating events with others can improve one’s enjoyment of activities. Shaddy and his team note that people are often hesitant to pursue pleasurable activities on their own. They might, however, be less opposed to enjoying activities alone if they can time these activities with the experiences of others.
The study, “Social Hedonic Editing: People Prefer to Experience Events at the Same Time as Others“, was authored by Franklin Shaddy, Yanping Tu, and Ayelet Fishbach.