Don’t Say No to Solo

Fears of Looking Friendless Rob You of Fun, Study Says
by Liam Farrell | illustration by Kelsey Marotta ’14

If you find yourself alone on a Friday night, which set of activities would you choose: a solo dinner at a popular restaurant and a new movie, or Thai takeout and a DVR binge?

If you choose the latter because you think others equate being alone with being a loser, then you’re probably missing out on a good time, according to new research from UMD marketing Professor Rebecca Ratner, published by the Journal of Consumer Research.

Ratner and Rebecca W. Hamilton of Georgetown University conducted a variety of experiments to test whether people have a realistic expectation of how much they will enjoy public, recreational activities on their own. In one trial, they found that people who went through Maryland’s Stamp Gallery by themselves had virtually the same amount of enjoyment as others who went with company—despite anticipating they would like it far less.

The researchers also found that people have coping strategies when companionship isn’t an option. For example, individuals are more likely to go to a coffee shop if they can also do work there, and will head to a movie for a sparser-attended Sunday matinee instead of a packed Saturday night showing.

“I’m guessing that a lot of this is deep-seated, almost evolutionary. We don’t want people to think anything is wrong with us,” Ratner says. “I think we associate ‘alone’ with ‘lonely.’”

She also sees this as having growing importance. The study’s name—“Inhibited from Bowling Alone”—is a reference to the seminal 2000 book by Robert Putnam about the fracturing of American society and the ensuing loss of social bonds. As people work longer, marry later and have more alone time than past generations, these inhibitions could hurt businesses and prevent people from pursuing the types of activities that create new relationships.

Ratner says this phenomenon appears to cross lines of age, gender and even countries. She has presented her research to international audiences and seen nods of recognition.

“This is affecting hundreds of millions of people,” she says.


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