As everyone knows, smart phones make it easy to multitask. You can read your email or browse your favorite websites almost anywhere you go. Now more and more areas are putting in Wi-Fi, which allows you to access the same features from your laptop or tablet. You could be on a plane, making business use of a long trip, or spend time just surfing along on your quick commuter trip via train or bus. Of course there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from “making use” of the time we spend transporting ourselves to and from the office. But, does burying your nose in your electronic devices during your commute actually make you happy? A new study says NO.


Researchers at the University of Chicago business school conducted a test among workers that commuted both by train and by bus in their area. The volunteers were told to either ride in silence or to start a conversation with a stranger (arranged by the testers). The test found that “people were significantly happier when they talked to the person sitting next to them than when they sat there in solitude.”

Nicholas Epley, a Professor of Behavioral Science who led the testing says on his website that he “conducts research on the experimental study of social cognition, perspective taking, and intuitive human judgment.” In this case, human intuition wasn’t right on the mark. Many people in the test initially assumed that they would have been happier in their commute if they kept to themselves, but on average, participants reported that they were happier when they talked during their journey.

An NPR report on the test noted “there’s a lot of research suggesting that social connections are important to our well-being and mental health.” This glimpse into public transit showed that cost and environmental savings aren’t the only things that could be realized via public transportation. For both talkers and quiet types, a good, old fashioned in person conversation may be the biggest benefit of all.