Do people underestimate how much they will enjoy doing things alone?

by on May 4, 2015 at 12:17 am in Data Source, Education, Film, Food and Drink, The Arts | Permalink

Roberto Ferdman reports:

Ratner has a new study titled ‘Inhibited from Bowling Alone,’ a nod to Robert Putnam’s book about Americans’ waning participation in group activities, that’s set to publish in the Journal of Consumer Research in August. In it, she and co-writer Rebecca Hamilton, a professor marketing at the McDonough School of Business, describe their findings: that people consistently underestimate how much they will enjoy seeing a show, going to a museum, visiting a theater, or eating at a restaurant alone. That miscalculation, she argues, is only becoming more problematic, because people are working more, marrying later, and, ultimately, finding themselves with smaller chunks of free time.

Might part of the problem be narcissism?:

“The reason is we think we won’t have fun because we’re worried about what other people will think,” said Ratner. “We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we’re afraid others will think they’re a loser.”

But other people, as it turns out, actually aren’t thinking about us quite as judgmentally or intensely as we tend to anticipate. Not nearly, in fact. There’s a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs.

There is more here.  For the pointer I thank Claire Morgan.

1 Judah Benjamin Hur May 4, 2015 at 12:42 am

The “here” link isn’t working.

I went to see Seinfeld do a stand-up performance recently and had a great time. I didn’t know anyone who wanted to spend $100 a ticket, but it was well worth it. Sometimes you also can get better seats if you only need one. In this case, if I needed two seats, I’d be stuck way in the back. And if I waited another day or two to purchase tickets, they would be sold out.

I’m visiting Shanghai right now and see some people eating alone at restaurants. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it’s very different from the USA.

We need to be less afraid of going out by ourselves.

2 Michael May 4, 2015 at 1:12 am

That sounds like a convoluted way of admitting that you’re a loser.

3 Judah Benjamin Hur May 4, 2015 at 1:19 am

Or a cheapskate, take your pick 🙂

4 ladderff May 4, 2015 at 11:09 am


5 Steve Sailer May 4, 2015 at 12:46 am

Playing golf alone is great.

6 Noumenon72 May 4, 2015 at 8:03 am

I would play as a foursome and take four tries at each shot. Seems like you’d get a lot of good feedback that way.

7 Brian Timoney May 4, 2015 at 1:05 am

Fitzgerald has one of his female characters express a similar sentiment: we vastly overestimate how much time other people spend thinking about us. Glad I read that at a formative age.

Biggest difference for me is live music: much more likely to experiment with little known acts when solo vs consensus-driven ‘safe’ picks.

Substituting Twitter for viewing parties on Super Bowl Sunday has been an unalloyed good.

8 DJohn May 4, 2015 at 2:03 am

This site is so depressing….

9 tedder May 4, 2015 at 2:08 am

Study link is wrong. Anyone know what the *real* link should be?

10 tedder May 4, 2015 at 2:09 am
11 Avihai May 4, 2015 at 2:47 am

Isn’t it ironic that such a paper has two co-writers?

12 Toby May 4, 2015 at 5:42 am

I laughed.

13 Axa May 4, 2015 at 3:46 am

Well, it’s the default situation when you move to a new city or work related travel. No friends, no relatives, you have to enjoy life alone. Going out with work colleagues in a foreign city is so lame unless the social activity is part of the job.

14 prior_approval May 4, 2015 at 4:52 am

Well, at least this time multiple commenters are noting another that another of those overnight posts is less than perfectly proofread in terms of links.

Proving, in contrast to a no longer apparent comment from yesterday, that some commenters do read what is linked. Well, not exactly read, but some are even interested enough to find a plausible link on their own, and share it.

15 prior_approval May 4, 2015 at 4:53 am

Or the same commenter twice, actually – somehwat gutting the idea that many commenters actually care about the links.

16 Moreno Klaus May 4, 2015 at 5:08 am

Yes, and people underestimate the benefits of living alone which leads to a lot of sub-optimal choices for partners. (unhappy marriages)

17 Peter May 4, 2015 at 6:04 am

Guess I will be the naesayer here having been single most of my life and job relocating nearly annually. At least for me, some activities just aren’t solo for example it’s difficult, though have tried, to do fine dining alone IMHO and ditto things like water parks. Social activities are social for a reason whereas bowling is a hobby.

18 Hazel Meade May 4, 2015 at 4:39 pm

I have to admit that going to a water park or an amusement park alone would probably be really terrible.

19 Dan Lavatan May 4, 2015 at 7:20 pm

I do a fair bit of dining alone and it works well if you have something to read. I always have my kindle with me even if I plan to meet others. Also, I can always pretend I am secretly a reviewer for AAA or Frodor or whatever, since it isn’t like they are going to send four people to write the review.

That said, if I were better organized there seem to be ad-hoc groups for everything, and doing things with people you have known for 30 seconds is obviously 100% OK.

20 RoyL May 4, 2015 at 6:05 am

Women have this problem a lot more than men. I travel a lot on business alone and mostly enjoy it, I know no women who do.

21 Nikki May 4, 2015 at 8:51 am

You do now. *waves hand*

Travel is different from theatres, dining, etc. in that respect though. You are not supposed to chat with your seatmate during a performance regardless of whether you’ve come accompanied, and you are probably not going to introduce yourself into a conversation between strangers at the next table. But on the road, being on your own opens communication opportunities. (Not sure if it’s the same for guys. One of the many wonderful things about having two X chromosomes is, you can say hi to a stranger and nobody screams ‘harassment.’) I tried it at first out of necessity: other people’s schedules tend to be less flexible, so it was a choice between going on my own or not going at all (for fun, not for business). Now I do it because that way I end up with new friends. When you bring your own company, it’s quality time together, but you don’t get to interact with the destination: it’s still the same conversations with the same people, only against a different background.

22 ladderff May 4, 2015 at 11:20 am

True. Traveling alone means people you meet are more likely to include you in their activities/share valuable information with you. It’s easier for them to include just one person in whatever they are up to than more than one. And if a couple or group meets people in the foreign space, it’s less likely for those people to think of really including them on the assumption that they must be ok, taken care of, etc, because they have each other.

23 Hazel Meade May 4, 2015 at 4:45 pm

I’m not sure this is really true.

A single woman/man will often be either a target of romantic attention, or be perceived as one, which may be a threat to another partner. For instance, two couples may be less comfortable inviting a single woman to join them than a third couple, because the other women will see the single woman as a threat. Also there are lots of activities, like dancing, where people need a partner.
Same thing even goes for amusement park rides – there are two seats, it’s wierd if the odd person sits alone.

I think it depends on whether other travellers are paired off on in groups of singles. A group of singles may invite a single or a couple to join them though. But a group of couples will ONLY invite another couple.

24 JK Brown May 4, 2015 at 11:28 am

You are correct, other than getting there, performances are really solitary experiences. Unless you are rude.

I found touristy travel to become tedious alone. It seems less about the destination and more about the shared experience. Probably more so if it is a resort type experience. On the other hand, seeing the sites in a city in conjunction with business or other travel reasons has always been enjoyable.

25 China Cat May 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm

I agree with Nikki.

Women have alot of freedom chat up strangers: even if you do creep them out, there is not cost to YOU for having done so.

I chat up people sitting next to me before classical music performances and during baseball games. You are all ‘audiencing’ together- that’s a commonality. I’m sensitive enough to know quickly if the other party wants no part. With this approach, I guess I’m not even really alone in the Putnam sense.

26 Dain May 5, 2015 at 1:45 pm

“Women have alot of freedom to chat up strangers”

I think this is true. They don’t risk being seen as losers or as being “creepers.” This is especially true for aging men. Though I have to admit that age-related anxieties are overall are probably much worse for women, even if they’re not dealing with them alone at some restaurant table.

27 Axa May 4, 2015 at 6:18 am

If only losers do things alone, this is a recipe for (marriage) disaster. If the fear of being looked down by peers makes you invite your wife to events she doesn’t like, she will reciprocate later. Results: no one’s happy.

28 Adam Salcedo May 4, 2015 at 6:27 am

I’m an introvert, so it’s pretty matter of fact that I need significant alone time to be happy.

29 dearieme May 4, 2015 at 6:43 am

“consistently and regularly we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs”: but surely giving up that adolescent behaviour is pretty much the definition of growing up?

30 Nikki May 4, 2015 at 9:00 am

Nope. That’s psych 101, literally: there’s a series of Paul Bloom’s lectures at Yale somewhere on the Internet, covering this subject among other things.

31 John May 4, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Wondering if the punchline here is that no one pays others attention because they spend too much time thinking about what the other people are thinkomg of them.

32 rayward May 4, 2015 at 7:03 am

The joke in my profession (law) is that it would be a great job if you didn’t have to deal with other lawyers and clients. In my work I’ve been going it alone (except for my secretary) for over 24 years, this after starting my career in my state’s largest law firm (much smaller then, much larger now). It’s not as though I don’t have contact with other lawyers; indeed, I often co-counsel with former partners – the ones I choose to work with, not the ones I am forced to work with. I suppose it’s not a coincidence that I have been single (i.e., not married) for 23 years. And I often fish alone in a kayak in the salt water creek that runs behind my house in the low country, which I did yesterday afternoon as we approach a full moon. And I ride my bicycle alone, as I did yesterday morning on my usual route to the top of the island and back (22 miles). And for the 30 years I was a daily runner, I ran alone, either in the dark before the sun would rise or in the middle of the day when it was hot as blazes. In my work I often travel alone (which means I eat in restaurants alone and go sight seeing alone), compounded by the fact that I reside in two different places. The odd thing is that most people I know think I’m gregarious, as I’m the one who usually hosts the dinner party and the Thanksgiving feast (and supplies the champagne). My long time girlfriend can’t understand why I often start a conversation with a stranger, in a restaurant, in a store, at the airport. You won’t know how fascinating the person is standing next to you unless you ask. I do have two rules: never talk in an elevator or in an airplane. People say the darndest things in elevators and airplanes, as if they are alone.

33 Strunk and white May 4, 2015 at 8:55 am

Lawyer verbiage

34 Hazel Meade May 4, 2015 at 4:47 pm

You paragrpahs are too long. Please break them up into smaller more digestible bits.

35 Hazel Meade May 4, 2015 at 4:49 pm

People say the darndest things in elevators and airplanes, as if they are alone.

That’s because talking to a total stranger you will never meet again is sort of like talking to a free therapist.

36 So Much for Subtlety May 4, 2015 at 7:25 am

I was going to comment. But then I realized no-one else would care. So I just smiled quietly to myself.

(While 1. stroking White cat, 2. writing with green crayon or 3. cleaning my 9 mm?)

37 Karol May 4, 2015 at 7:26 am

Of course, we all start to think about this in our later years. We face the likelihood of spending some years alone or our spouse spending years alone.

38 Serenity May 4, 2015 at 7:32 am

Can’t wait until our experience machines are so good no one ever needs another human to have a good time.

And most jobs are automated so the economy minimizes unwanted human contact. Then all we have to do is reduce the birth rate to prevent useless surplus humans, which will happen naturally in this setting.

The world will then consist of a few hundred million happy capital holders, robots, and maybe some pets. No more need for warfare either.

39 Red May 4, 2015 at 10:43 am

Nah. The future generations will look back on “experience machines” the way we look back on flying cars.

40 Serenity May 4, 2015 at 10:56 am

Huh? The entertainment industry is a thriving business sector. Your statement might make more sense if you replaced “flying cars” with “planes and helicopters”, which have been used for mass transportation for decades now.

41 floydthebarber May 4, 2015 at 8:29 am

I wish I could credit the originator, but I heard it remarked once that in the far (dystopian?) future, earth will be home to exactly four species: humans, bovines, cats, and dogs.

42 msgkings May 4, 2015 at 1:23 pm

No need to credit anyone for that, it’s kinda dumb.

43 meets May 4, 2015 at 9:48 am

I enjoy doing things alone, but not in public.

44 justsomeguy May 4, 2015 at 10:12 am

“Hell is other people”

45 BC Puckett May 4, 2015 at 10:14 am

Drinking alone is greatly underrated as well……

46 Yancey Ward May 4, 2015 at 11:38 am

here’s a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs.

This is very, very true, and I am often amazed at how few people truly understand this fact.

47 Jazi Zilber May 4, 2015 at 11:39 am

We do overestimate the interest of other people in us. True.

But is the assumption that they judge us negatively for going out alone still true? (that is when they bother to look at us)? Or is the assumption of bad judgement itself a misjudgment?

48 Rob May 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Just one study testing the actual enjoyment though – it may not replicate.

It runs against experiments showing that having friends is good for health, happiness, etc. If you only have a little spare time, you probably ought to use it to cultivate social connections. If you have more time you have more freedom to split it between social and personal time.

49 Rob Wiblin May 4, 2015 at 1:02 pm

The key study here had 86 participants in three groups:

“Participants assigned to the forecasting conditions (n = 29 in the alone condition and n = 30 in the together condition) filled out a series of dependent measures consistent with the measures used in our earlier studies. In addition, we had a no-forecast control condition in which participants were alone and did not make forecasts (n = 27).”

Not terrible, but not confidence inspiring either. I would really want to see the result replicated before changing my life.

50 Ricardo May 4, 2015 at 1:59 pm

The relevant choice isn’t hang out with friends v. go out by yourself. Rather, it is, sit at home by yourself v. go out by yourself.

The point is that some people attach such a stigma to going out by themselves that, when friends are not available, they spend time alone at home or perhaps become workaholics. As noted above, this is relevant to all sorts of people including those who move to a new city where they don’t know anyone at first, the elderly and/or widowers, or single people who find that all of their close friends have gotten married and had children.

51 John May 4, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Seems like you’re assuming that the busy time is some how socially isolated which might be an error.

52 Hazel Meade May 4, 2015 at 4:37 pm

This is something I learned a long time ago, when I started going out to eat by myself.
There was definitely a hurdle of feeling wierd and uncomfortable about eating alone. But guess what? Nothing happened.
I got a nice meal and didn’t have to do the dishes, and I exposed myself to a wide variety of different cuisines.

People should do more things alone, if only because people’s social circle often constrains their choices and prevents them from exploring new things. If you are afraid of going alone and you can’t find someone else who shares your new interest, then you end up not doing it at all. Which is a shame.

It’s also a good reasons to date and socialize with people who aren’t like you. They can show you new things you wouldn’t have even thought of trying before.

In conclusion: everyone dump your old friends and be a loner or find new ones. Just kidding.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: