McDonough School of Business
Movie theatre and popcorn
News Story

New Faculty Research Examines The Benefits of Going Solo

It is daunting to participate in activities and experiences alone. In fact, nearly 70% of adults in the United States choose to engage in experiences with others, whether it be a trip to the movies, a sporting event, attending a museum, or eating at a restaurant. 

Are our fears of being single validated, or are we limiting ourselves from otherwise enjoyable solo experiences due to stigma? According to Rebecca Hamilton, Michael and Robin Psaros Endowed Chair in Business Administration, there is value in going alone, and – at times – it might even be more pleasant than going together with someone else.

In a series of studies published in the Journal of Marketing Research, Hamilton and colleagues examined whether shared consumption experiences led to increased satisfaction in the activity or if it was better to go alone. Their research demonstrates that while people often choose companionship to avoid public perception of being alone, once individuals have the opportunity to engage in an experience without the added stress of wondering how others prefer to navigate the experience, the event becomes more enjoyable. 

Navigating a shared experience  – jointly determining the pacing, sequencing, and interaction with another person during the activity – influences how much satisfaction a consumer derives from the experience. 

Take, for example, a visit to an art gallery. If a consumer chose to attend the gallery opening solo, they would have the autonomy to move through the art exhibits at their own pace. They also have the independence to choose whether to interact with others in the gallery and which exhibits to explore. When a friend is added to the activity, decisions about pacing, sequencing and interaction must then be made to accommodate another person’s preferences and interests, whether or not they are in alignment with their own. 

“We find that if a shared experience involves joint navigation, not having a clear understanding of that person’s preferences reduces enjoyment,” said Hamilton. “This is because lack of clarity makes these navigation decisions more difficult, reducing the consumer’s own ability to focus on the activity and inhibiting enjoyment.”

But, even when shared experiences are less enjoyable than solo experiences, our earlier research suggests that consumers will still choose shared experiences for fear of judgment. “Across cultures, people are less willing to engage in pleasurable public activities alone,” said Hamilton.

The payoff of being willing to engage in individual experiences is worth it if people can overcome the discomfort and social pressures associated with being alone – both for consumers and for the companies selling their services.

“We think marketers are leaving a lot of money on the table,” says Hamilton. “There are so many people who have time and money to go out, but they’re inhibited by the discomfort they think they’ll feel going solo. If marketers are able to increase consumers’ comfort with going by themselves, they could fill empty seats and create more loyal customers. We think it’s a win-win.”

So for those without a date or a friend available to engage in a shared experience, the research is clear: activities that you enjoy are worth experiencing solo, and the cost of not going to that movie, art gallery, or concert is often greater than the stigma of going alone.