Decreasing loneliness through weak ties: A survey example

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The ‘R’ in the PERMA model of happiness is relationships (Madeson, 2021). In this New York Times article Maura Kelly tells us that following a break-up, she was feeling lonely. A friend advised her to become a regular somewhere (Kelly, 2023). [Cue the theme song from the sitcom Cheers.] Her friend’s advice was solid. All relationships matter, even the casual ones. During the COVID lockdown, I wrote about the importance of weak ties (Frantz, 2021).  For students who are starting college this fall away from home, they may be away from their family and high school friends for the first time in their lives. Their weak ties are gone, and their strong ties may be more challenging to maintain. Loneliness is to be expected. In Intro Psych, we can use the research methods chapter to normalize loneliness and provide students some strategies for reducing it.

After covering surveys in the research methods chapter, ask students to read this article on a survey about loneliness done with older adults (Lam et al., 2023), and then answer these questions:

  1. Explain the difference between strong and weak ties. Give examples of each. [Background section]
  2. Where did the researchers find their survey participants? [Study section]
  3. What was the response rate for this survey? [Study section] Explain what is meant by the term response rate.
  4. How many participants were included in the researchers’ subsample? What was the purpose of the subsample? [Study section]
  5. According to the results of this study, which is more important: strong ties, weak ties, or a mix of both? [Conclusion section]
  6. The researchers argue that there are three reasons weak ties are important. What are they? [Conclusion section]
  7. While this study was about older adults, would you expect similar findings for first-year college students? Why or why not?
  8. Give an example of at least one weak tie that you have. How do you know this person? How often do you see them? Identify at least one thing you can do to increase the likelihood of developing more weak ties.

A couple of years ago, we moved across the country. In our new community, we’ve been building our network of weak ties. From that network we’ve created some strong ties, too. For example, we visit our favorite local coffee shop once or twice a week. Over time, we have gotten to know the owners, the baristas, and many of the regular patrons. At our favorite restaurant, the servers now greet us with hugs. Weak ties, yes, but powerful weak ties. It is difficult to not feel a sense of community when you’re hugged just for going out to dinner.

Assure your students that to develop weak ties, they do not need to be an extravert. Encourage your students to find a place where they like the atmosphere—a coffee shop, a comfy spot in the student union, a corner of the public library. Tell them to visit their chosen spot frequently. Assure them that the mere exposure effect will work in their favor. As your students begin to see faces that are now familiar, encourage your students to nod or smile in recognition of these others who are also regulars, and, over time, chat about something innocuous, like the weather.

Face-to-face classes can be another source of weak ties, but since time in the classroom is limited, students may need to work a little faster to develop those ties. However, weak ties may be easier to develop with other students who are in the same major because they may see the same students in multiple courses.

Loneliness is very real. Using this survey example in the Intro Psych research methods chapter is one way to encourage students to expand their network of weak ties.

 

References

Frantz, S. (2021, February 2). Watercooler conversations: Weak-ties matter. Macmillan and BFW Teaching Community. https://community.macmillanlearning.com/t5/psychology-blog/watercooler-conversations-weak-ties-matte...

Kelly, M. (2023, August 11). Where everybody knows your name. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/11/well/become-a-regular-loneliness.html

Lam, J., Broccatelli, C., & Baxter, J. (2023). Diversity of strong and weak ties and loneliness in older adults. Journal of Aging Studies, 64, 101097. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2022.101097

Madeson, M. (2021, June 12). Seligman’s PERMA+ model explained: A theory of wellbeing. https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/

 

 

 

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.