How to design interaction between people which are strangers to each other?

My question is, how to bring people with completely different cultures, backgrounds and interest to a moment of human interaction.

It can be a a very short moment, where people are connected and they are released in there routines again, but with something that remains. In the best case, it could happen, that it creates long term connections but this is not my biggest intention.

I can imagine to build up installations (maybe super small but many), manage meetings, organize happenings (flash mops) and document all this for a exhibition which presents the activity to a broader public.

It will take place in Berlin, basically because our uni is here, but it also is a awesome place for multicultural interaction. The challenges will be to coordinate many people, finding locations and founding the project.

Sounds great

Hi Phil,

This sounds wonderful. Make sure you let ER community know when you are planning this to happen. I know i’d love to come along if i can.


The eyecontact experiment

A very basic event which happened in a lot of cities over the last years, including where I live (Cluj) was to have hundreds of people - strangers - staring in each others eyes for one long minute, two by two. After that, one would stand, leave and go to sit with someone else. And so on. It was an interesting human connection experiment, although it mostly brought young people in.

More about this and a video:

We used to call it “eye vibing”

Back in the hippie glory days some of the more spiritually-inclined ones of us routinely engaged in this sort of mini-meditation with another person. It wasn’t structured; we would just do it when we felt like it.  It often led to better mutual understanding and empathy, which was usually discerned in whatever conversation followed the session.

Exploit the architecture of human cognition

And after all of this inspiring stuff, I am going to offer some information I have come across, and that is going to sound dry and heartless in comparison. :slight_smile:

There is a concept at the crossroads of evolutionary biology, anthropology and psychology called cultural evolution. The idea is that, in humans, culture and biology intertwine dynamically: evolutionary pressure makes us evolve mixed packages of genes and culture that make us fitter for survival. These packages repurpose and harness pre-existent packages. If you want to know more, this book is a fantastic introduction.

Researchers in this area have figured out why humans have evolved rites of passage, which can be very costly (in some tribes, young men especially have to go through gruesome trials to become full members of the tribe). So where’s the benefit? The benefit is that these rituals cement the tribe’s cohesion, making it more fit to withstand intergroup competition, a major driver of human evolution (and suspected to have been a driver of non-human primates before we came around). How can rituals cement cohesion across participants? They harness certain biases in human cognition. For example, it has been found that doing things in sync enhances the propensity to cooperate. Consider the following experiment.

  • Participants are randomly divided in two groups. People in group A are asked to perform a simple physical act in sync with each other, like clapping hands. People in group B are asked to per form the same act, but not in sync.
  • All participants are asked to play a simple game where they need to choose between a "cooperate" and a "defect" strategy, like the Prisoner's dilemma
  • Members of group A have a measurably higher probability to cooperate.

So, to make strangers connect, a sensible strategy seems to be to “think like a hacker” and exploit the biases in human cognition, such as the tendency to cooperate more with people you have done something in sync with. A major bias is that we seem to be hardwired for forming groups. It is very, very easy to make humans behave like a group – check out Wilfred Bion’s work for that.

Obviously, this same kind of hacking is successfully used every day by racist groups, who succeed in making people hate and despise other people just like them, who have never hurt the haters and whom said haters do not even know anyway. Like the Force in Star Wars, human cognition has a dark side… but you guys, I’,m sure, will stay away from it.

Resurrecting an old post

I saw your post after recent activity on this thread @Alberto… I was wondering if you have read anything about rites of passage in more detail? What is the aspect that creates stronger cohesion? Is it the selection process and ‘insider vs outsider’ dynamic, is it the sharing of pain and hardship that creates stronger connections between individuals, maybe another reason?

I’ll recommend this book as well for everyone who is interested in the topic.

ok, but what if you feel unequal to the other?

Ok, but what becomes the “being strangers to each other” when it combines with a “feeling unequal to the other”? Being alien to each other? To what extend are the strategies you develop or suggest effective in that case? Did some have (good or bad) experiences for that case? But if one develops specific strategies for that case, one takes the risk to confirm the unequality one wants to overcome or sublimate! The question I raise is relevant, I think, for any type for “feeling unequal”. Any hint?

Laurent dUrsel

Find common ground, ask common questions

This may sound obvious, but I guess one main approach is to find some point in common. Yes, the two people may come from completely different backgrounds, but there are so many aspects to life that, if we look at enough areas of life, it is extremely unlikely that nothing at all is shared.

Alternatively, try exploring questions which mean a lot to almost everyone. See e.g.

See what happened to one person trying this out in this TED talk…