(CNN)Thinking of reaching out to old friends but nervous it will be awkward or that they won't appreciate it? You should make those phone calls or send a text or email, according to new research.
Why you should reach out to old friends
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A study published July 11 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people often underestimate how much their friends and old acquaintances appreciate hearing from them.
"If there's been someone that you've been hesitating to reach out to, that you've lost touch with perhaps, you should go ahead and reach out, and they're likely to appreciate it much more than you think," said Peggy Liu, the study's lead author. Liu is the Ben L. Fryrear chair in marketing and associate professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business.
The researchers conducted a series of 13 experiments with more than 5,900 participants to see if people could accurately estimate how much their friends value them reaching out and what forms of communication make the biggest impact. In these experiments, reaching out was defined as a phone call, text, email, note or small gift.
The experiments found that initiators significantly underestimated the recipient's reaction to the check-in.
"It's often less about these kinds of grand overtures that we can make in our relationships and more about the small moments of letting a friend know that we're thinking of them," said Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship expert who was not involved in the study.
A recipient appreciated the communication more when it was surprising, such as when it was from someone the recipient did not regularly contact or when the participant and recipient did not consider themselves to be close friends, the study found.
"When you feel that sense of positive surprise," Liu said, "it really further boosts the appreciation that you feel."
Relationships, including friendships, can be one of the strongest predictors of how healthy we are and how long we live, and they can boost our overall well-being.
"Those types of small reach outs with lower stakes can go a long way towards strengthening relationships early on, getting a friendship off the ground and maintaining them over time," Kirmayer said.
Friendships require nourishment, sociologist Anna Akbari said. But a variety of insecurities can prevent us from reaching out, said Akbari, who was not involved in the study.
To get over some of this discomfort, take notice of automatic thought patterns that arise when thinking about communicating with a friend, and try to push back against them, Kirmayer said. These patterns can include ideas that one friend cares more and puts in more effort than another, or the assumption that a friend does not like you back.
One of the common fears around reaching out is rejection, Akbari said. When focusing on the possibility of rejection, one may deprive oneself of close friendships and enjoyable experiences, she added.
It's impossible to avoid rejection, so learning how to be OK with it can allow people to become more resilient, Akbari said.
People can also combat fear by putting themselves in their friends' shoes and thinking about how they would feel if they received the contact, said Marisa Franco, a psychologist and assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland and author of the forthcoming book "Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make -- and Keep -- Friends." She was not involved in the study.
Doing so can help push back against the assumption things will go poorly when you reach out, she added.
The recent research did not evaluate the effects of reaching out on social media platforms, and friendship experts have conflicting opinions on how much social media may make a difference when communicating with an old friend.
For those who aren't ready to text or call their friends out of the blue, commenting or responding on social media can be a good place to start, Franco said.