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The Beauty of "I-Sharing"

Growing research shines a light on another way to bond with people.

Key points

  • I-sharing happens when people think another individual is having the same internal response to something that they are.
  • Research reveals that i-sharing is linked with fondness, better responses across groups, and more negotiation and happiness among couples.
  • Examples of times when i-sharing could occur include trying the same meal, watching the same movie or TV show, or listening to the same song.
Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels
Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

I’ll bet the notion that "sharing with others is worthwhile" isn’t news to you. But what if I said it’s beneficial to "i-share" with someone? It’s a concept that a team of researchers put forward in 2006, and one that I’ve had the pleasure to explain to students in a class I teach on close relationships. Yet, I’ve never thought of featuring it in a post. However, a recent conversation with a student who appreciated and related to the notion of i-sharing moved me to want to change that.

For starters, what is i-sharing? The researchers who developed the idea described i-sharing as “the belief that one shares an identical subjective experience with another person.” To put it differently, if you think someone else is having the same inner reaction to something as you are, you’ve just i-shared with that person.

And in all probability, you don’t need to look very far to come up with examples; they’re all around you. For instance, if you’re watching a beautiful sunset with a friend and you both sigh with admiration at the view, you’re i-sharing. A hum of satisfaction as you and your partner dive into that first delicious bite of dessert together? I-sharing. If you’ve ever laughed or shrieked with someone at the exact same moment of a show or a movie, that counts. You can i-share with friends, loved ones, and people you don’t know. As a case in point, many years ago, a woman and I screamed at the same time and embraced each other when the small plane we were in suddenly felt like it was falling. And when the plane quickly leveled itself, this stranger and I laughed together at the comical awkwardness of the moment.

It also bonded us. We had been quietly reading before that happened, and afterward, we couldn’t stop chatting for the rest of the flight. This is in line with a research finding that when people i-share, they develop an affinity for each other. Why would this be the case? The view behind why i-sharing fosters affection is that we’re all alone in our own way because we can’t actually know whether someone else is having the same personal experience we’re having. Are they really having the same emotions, experiencing the same sensations, or perceiving a situation in the same way? When we i-share, it allows us as human beings to have the sense, just for a moment, that we can step into another person’s inner world and they can step into ours. As the creators of this concept have noted, we’re making an assumption because we still can’t truly know whether someone is having exactly the experience, but it gives us the best felt sense that we can bridge the gap between ourselves and others.

Studies on i-sharing

The literature on i-sharing also highlights how, in addition to cultivating interpersonal affection, it promotes other highly valuable results. For instance, there’s evidence that i-sharing can contribute to more beneficial responses in some cases (the literature on this is still growing) to someone of another sexual orientation, racial group, or social class. Another study revealed that couples were more able to reach a shared understanding about how to split various household jobs after i-sharing with another person they didn’t know who was supposedly in another room (and it wasn’t even a real person). And still another study showed that the degree to which people believe they i-share with their romantic partner is linked with how much they think their partner knows who they really are and how happy they feel in the relationship.

I-sharing ideas

So let’s say you want to build more i-sharing into your life. How can you do it? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Try tasting the same dish and describing the flavors you’re experiencing.
  • Look at a painting, a photograph, or another work of art with someone and describe what feelings or interpretations it brings up for you.
  • Listen to a song and describe what feelings it stirs or what parts of it stand out to you.
  • Pay attention to when you and another person seem to have the same reaction to a scene in a show, movie, or play, and then talk about it when the time is right.
  • Try a new hobby or go somewhere new and share what it’s like for you in the moment.

No matter what you try, have fun with it, notice how you feel, and allow yourself to be curious about how it just might impact your bond with your i-sharing partner.

And to my thoughtful student who inspired me to write this by taking the time to convey how learning about this concept impacted them—thank you so much.


Gehman, R. M., Pinel, E. C., Johnson, L. C., & Grover, K. W. (2022). Emerging Ideas. A ripple effect: Does I‐sharing with a stranger promote compromise in cohabiting couples? Family Relations.

Pinel, E. C., Bronson, C. A., Zapata, J. P., & Bosson, J. K. (2019). I-sharing after a gender status threat and its implications for attitudes toward gay men. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(3), 299-309.

Pinel, E. C., Long, A. E., Landau, M. J., Alexander, K., & Pyszczynski, T. (2006). Seeing I to I: A pathway to interpersonal connectedness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(2), 243-257.

Pinel, E. C., Yawger, G. C., Long, A. E., Rampy, N., Brenna, R., & Finnell, S. K. (2017). Human like me: Evidence that i‐sharing humanizes the otherwise dehumanized. British Journal of Social Psychology, 56(4), 689-704.

Rivera, G. N., Smith, C. M., & Schlegel, R. J. (2019). A window to the true self: The importance of I-sharing in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(6), 1640-1650.

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