Interesting Life Experiences May Lead to Social Difficulties

A man stands alone on a rocky precipiceA few minutes perusing Facebook or Pinterest might leave you longing to go skydiving or whitewater rafting. Our culture is increasingly driven by a competition for authenticity and unique experiences, and research suggests that people believe unique experiences will improve their lives. These interesting life experiences, though, may actually lead to social alienation. A new study has found that people who experience extraordinary events may not be able to discuss those events with their peers, causing people who experience these events to feel excluded and alienated.

Extraordinary Experiences and Alienation

Gus Cooney, a Harvard University social psychologist, began his research project after noticing that people tend to talk most frequently about the ordinary and mundane. He hypothesized that people whose experiences didn’t line up with common experiences might feel left out of these discussions.

To test his hypothesis, Cooney and his team brought 68 participants into their lab. Working with groups of four people, researchers showed one member of each group a “four-star” video of a street magician, while the other three watched a “two-star” video animation. Each participant knew that there were two videos and that one person in their group had seen a different video.

After watching the videos, the group of four had a five-minute discussion. In each of the groups, the lone group member who had seen the extraordinary video reported feeling worse during the group discussion, explaining that he or she felt more excluded.

In two subsequent studies, researchers tested participants’ anticipated feelings about the videos. These studies found that participants believed that the people who watched the extraordinary video would have more to talk about and feel better than the group that watched the average video.

Cooney and his team suggest that this study serves as evidence that people who experience extraordinary events may not be able to talk about those experiences with those who have not experienced the events, and that this can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation. People’s incorrect prediction that these extraordinary events will make them feel better may contribute to their desire to experience the extraordinary.


Sharing ‘extraordinary experiences’ with others may socially alienate us. (2014, October 6). Retrieved from

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  • Rene


    October 7th, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    I sure do hope that it isn’t because people are feeling jealous of them- those would be friends I wouldn’t want to have around anyway.

  • Keller


    October 7th, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    I can honestly say that I have been the victim of this kind of treatment. I have been very firtunate in my life and have been able to travel alot and do the things that many people I suppose would love to be able to experience. I think that when I talk about these things though they tend to put others off and then they don’t really want to hang out with me anymore. I don’t talk about it unless I am asked and then I share what I know and what I did. What am I doing other than trying to satisfy their curiosity but then it seems that when I do share they walk away? I don’t want to make anyone jealous, that is not the point at all. So where is all of this going so wrong?

  • Daniel


    October 8th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    How is it that we find the need to shut out those who may have some of the most interesting elements to add to our lives?

  • thomas


    October 8th, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    Because sometimes you get tired of hearing all about the bragging and that can bring you down especially if you don’t have the means to do these kinds of things yourself.

  • Nicolette


    October 9th, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    The thing that gets me is that sometimes you get kind of tired of hearing all about all of the great things that they have done, and you just want to turn it off somehow, and many times the way that we do this is by then shutting the person out from our lives. I don’t wnat to exclude anyone, but you do have to admit that all of this can become tiresome at times, when maybe you just want to commisterate about how crappy things are for you right now but then all they want to talk about is the great trip that they just took last weeked, Sometimes you just want to look at them and say, I get it, your life is great but mine sucks just a little right now and that is what I need to talk about. A real friend will understand and will table the discussion for a later time. Someone who only wants things to be one sided and about them will complain and will think that you are being critical of them.

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