While it’s tempting to stay in on a Friday night and catch up on your favorite shows, research suggests that’s probably not the best choice. First a 2010 Brigham Young University study showed that quality social connections increased “odds of survival” by 50 percent, and low social interaction was equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day and twice as harmful as obesity. Now, a new study from the University of Rochester offers some context: the quantity of social interactions at 20-years old and the quality of them at 30-years-old are integral in ensuring well being later in life.
Lead author Cheryl Carmichael studied a group of 222 participants over the course of 30 years—beginning in the 1970s when they were 20-something college students. At ages 20 and 30, researchers asked them to record any 10-minute or longer social interaction in a daily journal and rate how intimate, pleasant, and satisfying the interaction was. Twenty years later, Carmichael was able to follow up with 133 of the original 222 30-year-olds to discuss their current social lives and emotional health. The researchers found higher reported levels of wellbeing among those who had more friends in their 20s—and better friends in their 30s. The results were published in the journal Psychology and Aging.
The researchers noted that it was more important for 20-year-olds to have many interactions, regardless of quality. They guessed this was because frequent connections help young adults figure out “who they are,” and that age is when it’s most important and valuable to meet others with diverse backgrounds and opinions. By age 30, however, the mantra “quality over quantity” seemed to hold true—those intimate relationships were important at all ages, but more so at 30 when looking at the effect on wellbeing later in life.
"Considering everything else that goes on in life over those 30 years—marriage, raising a family, and building a career—it is extraordinary that there appears to be a relationship between the kinds of interactions college students and young adults have and their emotional health later in life," Carmichael said in a statement.