Exercising Together Speeds up Bonding

Want to Get to know Someone Better? Our New Research Suggests Exercising Together Speeds up Bonding

There are times when we want to get to know someone quickly – perhaps on a date or an important  business meeting with a client. The problem is people are cautious and distrustful of people who ‘come on too strong’ or disclose too much about themselves too early in a relationship.

The key to developing strong relationships with others is reciprocal disclosure – in other words disclosing personal things about yourself. However, for the bonding process to work it requires reciprocation. If one person is disclosing personal information but the other isn’t, it may lead to regret, embarrassment, and even rejection from the other. The key to getting emotionally closer to someone else is mutual trading of more and more personal information over time, until eventually you know them well enough to share highly personal information, and even secrets.

Over the past three years we’ve been studying why people say things they later regret. In several experiments we found that people disclose more personal information about themselves directly after jogging on the spot for 60 seconds. The implications of these experiments suggest that reciprocal personal disclosures are more likely when both parties are physically exercising together.

The psychology behind how this works

From innocuous faux pas to more serious disclosures of secretive information, in each experiment we found that arousal explains tendencies to disclose personal information about themselves. So, what’s arousal, and why does it cause people to disclose personal things about themselves? Essentially arousal is the degree to which an individual is awake and alert. It is characterised by things like increased heart rate, increase blood pressure, and the secretion of endorphin chemicals in the brain.

Arousal also uses up so-called ‘cognitive resources’, — basically brain power. Because there are less conscious cognitive resources available for controlling what comes out of our mouths, our minds default to more automatic, and seemingly less considered, responses. Normally it takes some effort to conceal personal information about ourselves – we are careful and somewhat guarded about what we say. When we lose conscious control over what we say, it becomes more likely that we’ll disclose information that we would otherwise keep to ourselves.

The Implications

If I were going on a date, and I wanted to get to know someone, I would do a physical activity such as bike riding or ice skating. Same with a business meeting – golf would be preferred over lunch, if you can swing it that way. Of course there are other ways to loosen the tongue, such as drinking alcohol together – but exercising is so much healthier, and I think you’ll find your relationship grows in better ways with the exercise.

The full research is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and can be found here.

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