How a Shared Bathroom Helps College Students Make Friends

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One of the less-fun college experiences is being forced to share a bathroom with everyone else in your hall. But some new research suggests an upside to the awkwardness: College students who did so were more likely to meet other students there by chance, and these chance encounters often led to friendships. 

Here’s more on the study according to Alex Fradera, a psychologist who writes for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest:

They recruited 462 students from 13 halls of residence and asked them to record how often they met by chance with other residents in their halls over the first week of term. This serendipity turned out to be very important: more chance meetings led to stronger interpersonal bonds with other residents, not just that week but also six and even ten weeks later. Moreover, more chance meetings with other residents went hand in hand with greater feelings of wellbeing later on.

You may be familiar with the concept of shared spaces in the workplace — kitchens, break rooms, or work stations — and how they increase chance encounters. This, so the theory goes, can foster spontaneous conversation that can lead to relationships or creative collaboration. In this study, places like lounges were important for these kinds of encounters, but the authors found that the shared bathrooms were just as important. As Fradera writes, “My student halls had shared toilets, and looking back, the greetings we exchanged while clutching a roll of toilet paper made it easier to let go of any pretenses and feel more relaxed around each other.”

It’s more evidence that some of the things you whined about most in college probably ended up being the most beneficial. That random roommate you were assigned, for example, gave you the unique chance to live with someone completely different from yourself, which likely opened your eyes to new ways of thinking and living. And at least a few of your dearest college friendships may be thanks to the fact that you once had to go at the same time, in the bathroom you shared.