Cognitive Daily

Almost three years ago, we conducted our first-ever Casual Fridays study, where we asked who says “hi” to you while you’re outside exercising. The results confirmed my suspicions:

Runners report that they say “hi” to walkers 57.1 percent of the time. But looking back at the other graph, walkers claim runners only say “hi” only 31 percent of the time. That’s a massive difference — a statistically significant one. A similar — and also significant — disparity holds for bikers and walkers.

But there were some unanswered questions back then. Are the people who answered our survey just friendlier than average? It’s possible that they were telling the truth about how often they say “hi” and that others aren’t so friendly.

This time around, we have a larger sample (415 responses), and we’ve asked a few additional questions that may help us determine if our respondents self-selected, or if we really do just misrepresent how often we say “hi.” Clearly there is some self-selection going on, because we had many fewer responses than we normally get. I’m guessing this is because a lot of our readers simply don’t go outside to do their exercise. Let’s see if we can confirm that with a quick poll:

Now, let’s take a look at the results of the new study. As before, respondents indeed report saying “hi” more often than people say “hi” to them:

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But three years ago we also found that runners and bikers say they say “hi” to walkers much more frequently than walkers acknowledge. This year we found the same pattern:

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As you can see, walkers say bikers and runners say “hi” less than 25 percent of the time, but runners and bikers say they say “hi” to walkers over 40 percent of the time — once again, a significant difference.

Can this be explained by the “friendliness” of our respondents? Runners and bikers actually say that walkers say “hi” to them much more than the walkers in our study say they do. For this to be the case, the walkers who responded to our study would need to be much friendlier than average, and the bikers and runners would need to be much less friendly than average.

I came up with two different ways to measure “friendliness.” One is a composite of how many different people you say that you say “hi” to — if you say “hi” to just walkers, you’d get a 1 on this scale, but if you say “hi” to walkers, bikers, and pet-walkers, then you’d get a 3. The other is a composite of answers to three questions: whether you join a friend when you exercise, whether you stop to talk to folks along your route, and whether you ask more questions than you answer in a conversation over lunch. This graph shows the results:

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The “friendliness” score combines all these measures, while the “No ‘Hi'” score ignores when people say they say “hi.” In both tests, there’s no significant difference in friendliness among runners, bikers, or walkers. So this suggests that people really do overestimate how often they say “hi”, or they underestimate how often others say hi to them.

Some other interesting results from this week’s study:

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Here the results are broken down by region. People in Europe say “hi” significantly less often than in the US or Canada (there weren’t enough responses from Asia or Australia/Oceania for those differences to be significant).

Finally, as you might expect, people are less likely to say “hi” in urban versus suburban/rural areas:

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(Just a reminder: All Casual Fridays studies are non-scientific. This doesn’t mean we can’t use scientific principles to assess what’s going on, but we can’t make general claims based on the results)

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    October 16, 2009

    I’m from Boston, where of course no one says hi to anyone. You know why people live in Boston? Because it gives us a dark satisfaction to know that we can survive in a place no humans should be. It’s windier than Chicago and rainier than Seattle, and it was built on a swamp by cows. (All of this is true; look it up.) Official motto: “I do not want to talk to you.”

  2. #2 Jon
    October 16, 2009

    I say hi to walkers when I’m running, but only a minority of walkers – depends on eye contact and other non-verbals I get. So if you asked me a yes or no question, I’d say ‘Yes, I say hi to walkers’, but if you asked all the walkers I passed, only a minority of them would say that I said hi. Also, I say hi to other runners much more consistently than to walkers. Other runners seem to expect a hi and generally make eye contact at the proper moment when passing. Walkers aren’t as consistent.

  3. #3 Tyro
    October 16, 2009

    I think it’s in the interpretation of the question. When I run, I see maybe 2-4 dozen walkers and say ‘hi’ to maybe 5-10 of them What do I as a runner see? A lot of hellos. What does the average walker see? 50-75% of walkers see a runner pass them silently.

  4. #4 Natalie
    October 16, 2009

    I exercise on a fairly regular basis, but I didn’t do the survey. When I go for a walk, it’s out in the grapes and I rarely see anyone. My other option is playing hockey, where you don’t say “hi” since you’re playing a game.

  5. #5 Ana
    October 16, 2009

    Southern California here, we are obligated to say hi to everyone. If you happen to speak Spanish, well the salutations just go on and on regardless of the time of day/evening/night. It really depends if you get a good vibe and good eye contact, some people just want to be left alone.

  6. #6 Markk
    October 16, 2009

    If, say, 2 out of 5 of the walkers simply don’t hear the runner (or specially the biker) what would things look like? People are walking and daydreaming and they have only a second (or a split second for a biker) to realize that someone has said something. I can’t believe there aren’t already studies about this very effect, it sounds ripe for some kind of thesis research.

  7. #7 Gav
    October 17, 2009

    Context may be relevant. Running in the hills around where I live encounters are few and people almost invariably exchange a few friendly words in passing (“Hi” might be considered rather rude in this situation). Running around town it would be exceptional to do so unless you recognised the other person as someone you knew or were acquainted with.

  8. #8 Paul from NH
    October 17, 2009

    @Alex:

    You just made my day. I love visiting Boston, but it always seems like the average Bostonian interacts with people so little I might as well consider them human-shaped scenery rather than fellow pedestrians.

    As for the original topic, I don’t exercise regularly while at school, but when I go home for the summer, I bike a lot. I only really say hi to other bikers, and only other bikers say hi to me.

  9. #9 PJM
    October 17, 2009

    I’m with Markk on this one. I have noticed a lot of runners pant “hi” on their way past someone. The person they’ve passed may not even hear them. This is why when I run past people, I shout out, “MORNING!” That way there’s no mistaking the fact that I’ve said hello. As a runner, I’d say most walkers don’t initiate an exchange, but will respond if I say good morning to them. I think they may think runners are snobs who will judge them for not exercising more vigorously (and some runners really are, and would). Given the time of day when I run, though, most people who are out may not even be awake yet. It’s hard to run four miles before the sun comes up without being awake, but you can sleep-walk your dog and crawl back into bed.

  10. #10 Lisa
    October 19, 2009

    For me, it depends on eye contact. Since I walk, making eye contact with runners or bikers is less likely. When people are walking with dogs or strollers, there is more of an excuse to greet them. When I have my son in his stroller, I’m more likely to greet people because they usually make eye contact and/ or coo at him.

  11. #11 Dave
    October 21, 2009

    Biker = person on a Harley, Cyclist = person on a bicycle. As a Cyclist I have a 100% ROI when giving Bikers the “low wave”

  12. #12 Finn
    October 23, 2009

    @Alex:

    C’mon, you know better. Our official motto is “Don’t talk to me, I don’t know you.”

  13. #13 Ben
    November 13, 2009

    As a cyclist (of the mountain persuasion) I don’t meet that many people, but I greet everyone I meet. Walkers always greet back, but I think that might be because they are intimidated. I can tell by the way they jump to the side and tense up. And that’s why I greet them in the first place, to lessen the harsh tone between hikers and bikers here in Norway.

    Other mountainbikers are less jovial. Or cyclists in general. At first I thought they would see a kindred spirit, a member of their tribe, a fellow traveller on two wheels, but nay. Maybe I am shunned because I don’t wear the same tight fitting cycling pants so they don’t recognize me as worthy..

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