EngageWell logo

Engaging with the Pod

Michelle Craske

Social Engagement with the Depression Grand Challenge

Due to the varied consequences of this pandemic, social engagement has transformed into a virtual setting. Fortunately, the Depression Grand Challenge has taken steps to unite the community together. In partnership with BeyGOOD, this UCLA organization has created the COVID-19 Care Package that includes resources as well as tools designed to lift moods and ease the anxiety that comes with the ongoing crisis.

Michelle Craske

Based on studies led by world-known psychologist Michelle Craske, individuals can use the following five tools to help relieve stress:

Strategy 1: Connected (stay connected)

While there are restrictions to social isolation, staying connected with family and friends is an easy way to cope with the stress as well as anxiety that comes with this quarantine. In addition, people living with multiple family members, friends, and roommates are spending a longer period of time with them – all of which can add many distractions and a lack of structure into your life. Some tips to ensure there is a sense of peace in your life is creating a schedule that incorporates fun activities. This is important to make sure you are dedicating time for yourself.

Strategy 2: Control (focus on what you can control)

In the midst of the quarantine chaos, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all that is happening around you. However, an important idea to emphasize is to focus on what you can control because it helps minimize the attention away from the uncertainty. Focus on what you can control, which may include the following:

  • Prioritize your health. It is important to feel good during this quarantine by ensuring that you get regular sleep and taking time to rest if your body is asking for it.
  • Create a schedule. Designating certain hours for particular tasks in your schedule is essential – this will help you space out time for eating, sleeping, exercising, working, and socializing. Additionally, it will help prevent you from overscheduling your day.
  • Get your exercise in. Take a walk in your neighborhood, enroll in an online workout class with your friend, or schedule your own workouts.
  • Do something fun. Read a book, try a new recipe, learn a TikTok dance, or pick up a new hobby!

Strategy 3: Calm (engage in activities that make you feel calm)

Anxiety and stress may place you in an unstable state; for this reason, you must calm your nerves and body. To maintain yourself calm and relaxed, the CARE package recommends exercise, yoga, meditation, and slow breathing. Look out for exercise and yoga studio classes online — these classes guide you through deep breathing and meditation. If you want less intense workouts, you may consider a jigsaw puzzle, drawing, or even doing DIY activities.

Strategy 4: Cut down on the news

A large part of your concerns may rise from reading COVID-19 news. It is essential to keep yourself informed about the latest guidelines; however, this can ultimately heighten your worries and increase anxiety.

Strategy 5: Caring (give and receive kindness)

Be kind to yourself and others. While this statement is always mentioned, the smallest gesture can make a difference. Reach out to a friend, coworker, or neighbor who might be feeling lonely during this quarantine. Showing acts of kindness can help you feel better about yourself and minimize the sadness you are experiencing as well. Everyone can benefit from helping each other, we’re all in this together. There is hope.


Jessica Nunez is a third-year undergraduate student studying Cognitive Science and Spanish, Community and Culture. In addition to blogging for the EngageWell Pod, she interns for the Transplant Research and Education Center (TREC) where she communicates with Spanish-speaking kidney patients about their various treatment options. She is strongly passionate about working towards healthcare equity and fostering social change.

Journaling next to a cup of tea

Socially Engaging from Home

As quarantine still unfolds and you continue adjusting to change, your activities may consist of studying for your upcoming finals, wishing to see your friends in person, and playing another round of UNO with your family. In order to maintain positive energy in your household, you can keep yourself energized and productive with a variety of activities that can help you practice social engagement from home:

Exercise in your backyard

While there is no gym open to everyone’s convenience, there are a variety of exercises you can practice at home. In fact, you can make it fun by using the space in your backyard as an area to exercise.

Are you interested in practicing your yoga skills? Core Power Yoga has designed a set of classes to deepen your yoga practice. At Home Inversion Practice offers a diverse outline of exercises in order to maintain your form. They are meant to focus on your upper body, core, and lower body. Check them out!

In addition to these yoga sessions, you can follow exercises posted on Instagram and YouTube in order to get creative with your forms of fitness. They are a good way to keep you accountable in exercising with consistency. These are important to ensure that individuals maintain a form of exercise.

Journal in a notebook

Sometimes you want to express your thoughts on paper, if you are feeling overwhelmed. A personally good way to practice journaling is to dedicate a certain amount of time during your day to write about what you are thinking about. Based on my personal experience, it is a creative outlet to self-reflect and write about what is important to you. This can ultimately serve as a form of expressing gratitude to yourself and having a clear mind of what your plans are.

Journaling next to a cup of tea

Customize your personal space

Are you feeling low in energy and unproductive during this quarantine? It is important to design your workspace into a relaxing place to help maximize your productivity and efficiency. Ways in which you can personalize your space is by adding pictures that remind you of your college experiences and by organizing supplies to add a scholarly vibe to your space. These are important to ensure that individuals maintain a sense of creativity and order in the midst of the chaos of the quarantine.

What’s next?

While quarantine is still happening, there are important ways to stay active at home. Take the time to rejuvenate yourself and finish spring quarter strong. You got this, Bruins!


Jessica Nunez is a third-year undergraduate student studying Cognitive Science and Spanish, Community and Culture. In addition to blogging for the EngageWell Pod, she interns for the Transplant Research and Education Center (TREC) where she communicates with Spanish-speaking kidney patients about their various treatment options. She is strongly passionate about working towards healthcare equity and fostering social change.


Social Distancing: A Talk with the EngageWell Pod

With this novel idea of “Safer at Home,” have you struggled with social detachment and distress? While physical distance may imply social distancing, it does not mean effacing the connections you have with others.

Conversation among experts in the EngageWell Pod shine a light on maintaining social engagement during this time of physical distancing. EngageWell Pod Co-leader Ted Robles begins a conversation with Associate Vice Provost Dr. Wendy Slusser about maintaining social engagement and support with a podcast in this special Semel HCI series, “6 feet apart.”

Dr. Robles explains that social well-being primarily focuses on having good quality connections with friends, coworkers, and even dogs — regardless of the number you have — and fostering trust in them. Cancelling graduation, struggling with depression, and ending the school year early are factors affecting the student community. However, these variations from normal life are all the more reason to keep strong personal connections with the people you care about.

Dr. Robles provides the following three tips for maintaining a strong social well-being:

  1. Taking care of yourself and loved ones

  2. Listening to frontline workers’ stories

  3. Giving back to others

Ultimately, although we are experiencing physical distance, it remains necessary to prioritize social well-being to maintain holistic health in the time of COVID-19.

Semel HCI Staff holding a virtual meeting


Jessica Nunez is a third-year undergraduate student studying Cognitive Science and Spanish, Community and Culture. In addition to blogging for the EngageWell Pod, she interns for the Transplant Research and Education Center (TREC) where she communicates with Spanish-speaking kidney patients about their various treatment options. She is strongly passionate about working towards healthcare equity and fostering social change.


The UCLA Piano Project

Have you ever felt overwhelmed as you are walking to your third class, or even a three-hour long lab, during the day? As a 2019 mark on campus, the UCLA Piano Project was launched as an effort to foster a sense of relaxation and tranquility. In the midst of midterm season, playing the pianos located around campus pauses the chaos of running to class and cements a sense of peace with the beat of music.

The project was founded by UCLA alumnus Jeremy Barrett in January 2019 as an effort to bridge a connection between the student community and music. The project began with three pianos in the fall, and was made possible through funding from the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center and the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as well as support from Chancellor Gene Block.

The pianos are located in four places around campus: Bruin Plate, Covel Commons, the Luskin Conference Hall, and Bruin Walk — all scattered in locations convenient for students’ pleasure. The music played on the piano is meant to transform a stress reliever into a harmonious sound for all.

Description of pianos across campus

According to a recent interview with Jeremy Barrett, the UCLA Piano Project was just an idea a few months back — an idea driven by the fact that most students are passionate about music and need a form of musical expression. His collaboration with staff and faculty helped solidify the plan and install accessible pianos around campus to unify the student community. Barrett explains that the Schoenberg Music Building donated four pianos after he was able to find a location for the pianos.

In fact, Barrett explains that Peter Angelis of UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services said, “Since they’ve been installed, impromptu performances have been non-stop and watching the social interactions of passersby with the pianists has been heartwarming. The pianos have brought a higher level of community and wellness to the Hill, and one that makes me wonder how we could have gone so long without the beautiful instruments.”

The student feedback on the piano project has been positive, as individuals believe the piano is a spontaneous outlet to channel their creativity on campus. There are opportunities in which individuals can play the piano in order to create a form of expression. UCLA students Jamie Adachi and Reshmi Vadapalli suggest that the pianos around campus create a nice distraction for them. Their evening walks on campus are enlightened by the fact that they can hear the piano play — a tranquil sound as they walk around campus and add peace to their walk.

“When we take an evening class on campus, we hear people play the piano on Bruinwalk and it is very calming,” Jamie Adachi mentions, “I appreciate hearing people play when I am walking to class.”

Jeremy Barrett emphasizes that the UCLA Piano Project was also constructed as an instrument of peace — one that could be heard in Los Angeles, California, America, and worldwide. The music could be heard in the steps of Bruin Plate, Sunset Village, and Luskin Conference Center. This served as a primary motivation for him to create the project.

In extension to this student experience, students living in the dorms mentioned that you can play the piano located in Covel Commons. Students who walk by the sound of the piano comment on the fact that it is a passive form of stress relief. These small acts of stress relief emphasize that students appreciate the university’s efforts to create a safe space among all. Their #homeawayfromhome, if you will.

The future plans of the Piano Project include incorporating different art forms and incorporating the concept of “Building Community Through Art” and organizing a “Paint the Piano” contest.

Ultimately, the UCLA Piano Project has sparked a conversation of stress relief and positivity among the student community. Jeremy Barrett’s work has changed the student community into a more musically-aware campus. The UCLA Piano Project has united students and the passion for music in a livid way — check it out!


Jessica Nunez is a third-year undergraduate student studying Cognitive Science and Spanish, Community and Culture. In addition to blogging for the EngageWell Pod, she interns for the Transplant Research and Education Center (TREC) where she communicates with Spanish-speaking kidney patients about their various treatment options. She is strongly passionate about working towards healthcare equity and fostering social change.

Accessibility 2

Making UCLA Accessibility Conscious

Every time I go on my Facebook, I see new events being held for movie screenings, networking events, and panels, all of which I am eager to participate in and learn more about. At these events, I  interact and meet others with similar interests, providing the basis of many friendships and connections. I see them as opportunities to enhance my social well-being.  

Unfortunately, for many students with disabilities, these events and activities are difficult to participate in: the tables at an event may be too high for a student in a wheelchair to reach, an interpreter may not be present so that hard of hearing and Deaf students with listening impairments are unable to understand what is going on, or pathways obstructions may impede a person who is blind’s ability to travel. Since students with disabilities compile only a small percentage of the UCLA body, planners often forget or simply don’t know how to incorporate disability-friendly measures into their events.

Carolanne “Goob” Link, a former undergraduate student at UCLA who was born with cerebral palsy, navigated campus as a student with mobile disabilities. The  extra hurdles she experienced in order to attend events and activities at UCLA inspired the creation of the Campus Accessibility Toolkit.  


The Campus Accessibility Toolkit arms and educates event planners with the vital information, through research and anecdotal evidence to create resource guides and lists,  to make their events accessible to students with physical disabilities.

The Drive for the Creation of the Accessibility Toolkit 

Goob’s two distinct experiences, as an ambulatory mobility impaired studentand as a student in a wheelchair, sparked Goob’s interest  in disability culture. Although she recognized an abundance of resources on campus, like the Center for Accessible Education (CAE), the ADA/504 Compliance Office, and the Disabilities and Computing program to help disabled students succeed academically, Goob explained that the services those resources provide “doesn’t necessarily mean you feel comfortable with experiences outside of the classroom. UCLA could be doing more to help include disabled person in extracurricular activities.” 

If social events do not take in account accessibility concerns, discomfort ensues, burdening both the student with disabilities and the event planners. Whenever she attended an event, her first thought was always “Is there going to be a problem?,” often correctly anticipating that appropriate accessibility concerns had not be made. While she felt ostracized for not being able to experience the event the way it was supposed to be experienced, she also acknowledged the guilt and regret event planners felt when they realized that their events were not universally attendable. Goob hopes that the contents of the Campus Accessibility Toolkit will “help students with disabilities feel more included and not have a fear of going to an extracurricular activity and for planners to not feel anxiety about planning for someone with a different set of needs.” 

A big obstacle in making social events accessible stems from a lack of communication between event planners and students with disabilities. When Goob attended a panel for disability studies, questions like “How do you ask about the disability?” and “How do you offer help without being pushy?” astonished her.   People could not plan to make their events and spaces more accessible because they did not want to risk the possibility of offending the disabled community. They gravitated to the panel because they believed it to be the only space where their questions would be welcomed and answered. Goob hopes that the Campus Accessibility Toolkit will “bridge this gap by putting knowledge out there without any awkwardness, without any confrontation or possibility of offense.”  

The Future Evolution of the Toolkit

Goob has been working on the Campus Accessibility Toolkit for six months, but she has been actively involved in improving accessibility for well over a couple of years. She communicated with a diverse group of sources: students, faculty members, and organizations in order to write the toolkit. Although the Campus Accessibility Toolkit is is currently in beta mode and being edited and modified, a number of offices at UCLA, like the CAE, the EDI, and the ADA504 agreed to feature the toolkit as a resource once it comes out. 

Goob has ambitious goals for the Campus Accessibility Toolkit. She is currently in the process of designing an Accessibility Conscious Seal, an emblem event planners can use in their publicity documents to inform the public they have taken measures to make their events as accessible to everyone as possible.  The Seal will allow students with disabilities to “know that the planners have already thought about the bigger picture of inclusion.” 

Although Goob authored most of the documents available in the Campus Accessibility Toolkit, she emphasized that it is a “living project” and that “my voice is that of a specific person and is the glorified compiler of her and other disabled students’ experiences. This is not some end-all, be-all. I hope that the future generation will become contributors and are always updating the toolkit as the technology changes.” As such, she encourages people to read and continuously add information to the toolkit, envisioning the development of a hub of information, connecting past difficulties to future solutions. People like event planners, architects and policy makers will be able to read about how to make specific venues on campus accessibility friendly.

After reading the Campus Accessibility Toolkit, I realized just how little I knew about a certain subset of people of UCLA. It never occured to me how unfair it was that the events that I attend on a weekly basis could not be enjoyed by everyone. 

Be sure to check it out below:


Jessica Yang is a second year student majoring in Environmental Science with a concentration in Environmental Health. On top of blogging for Semel HCI, she is part of club swimming and hopes to pursue a career in healthcare in the future. 



Resilient and Empathetic Leaders at UCLA

Resilient and Empathetic Leaders at UCLA

UCLA is home to an enormous number of students, staff, and faculty. Passionate, accomplished, and revered individuals can be found in every corner of campus, from those that are developing drugs to cure forms of cancer to others who are collegiate-level athletes and winning NCAA championship titles. In this fast-paced environment, it is easy to get caught up in what everybody else is doing and feel as though you cannot compare. While some people may appear to be superhuman in their positions of power, with long lists of accolades, countless friends, and the ability to take on whatever is thrown at them without much hesitation, that is simply not the truth. Everybody has experienced adversity in some way. It is how we overcome that adversity that defines our path in the future. It is important to see these leaders as approachable, empathetic, and relatable figures.

I decided to talk to these accomplished leaders to understand how they came to be who they are today. Learning about the bumps they encountered on their paths and how they overcame them has shown me that resilience may be the ultimate “superhuman” ability, and the empathy they can show for those who look up to them.


A Spotlight on Wendy Slusser: Taking Action to Overcome Social Isolation

Dr. Wendy Slusser is a pediatrician, nutritionist, and the Associate Vice Provost of the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center. She is a key leader in creating a culture of health and well-being on campus, using strategies such as making “the healthy choice the easiest choice” and “infusing health into the everyday operations at UCLA.”. Through her leadership of Semel HCI, Dr. Slusser has helped change the health landscape at UCLA by backing the creation of B-plate, helping to incorporate healthy options into vending machines, driving the formation of the Food Studies Minor and Graduate Certificate, and supporting efforts to create UCLA’s Bike Share program. Dr. Slusser is also a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health at UCLA, and Co-Founder and Medical Director of the UCLA Fit for Healthy Weight program. I sat down with Dr. Slusser and asked her about her struggles with social isolation and how she infuses social well-being into her day-by-day life.


Q: When was your greatest moment of social isolation and how did you overcome it?

A: I grew up in a family of five children so I never was alone for a long time. Up until I was 14, I shared a bedroom with my three sisters, so even when I was asleep, I was never alone. It was when I first went to college that I first felt the sense of being alone because I was away from the nuclear family that always gave me a home.

The time I felt the loneliest was when I had a two-year-old. I was living in San Diego, working at a great job, and living two houses in from this beautiful beach. I remember standing on the beach. looking out at the ocean, telling myself, “This is so beautiful and I’m so grateful and I have a child and a wonderful husband, but I’d rather live in the slums of New York and be near my family and friends then be here.” It struck me that when you have a young child, are working full-time, have a husband who is not working at home, and no family nearby, you feel very alone.

That moment I realized I needed to change the location of where I worked. I resigned from a job I really liked and moved up to LA with no job just so I could be closer to my husband, who was spending more time working there, and my friends who lived there. It transformed my life.


Q: What would you recommend to students who currently feel socially isolated?

A: Joining a club or having a common interest with people is definitely a way to link and create a foundation for friendship because you can then share that with them. It’s more than just a socializing event; it’s sharing something that you enjoy together.

I have regular hiking partners and that’s how I see my friends and have conversations with them. We have bonded over the common interest of hiking. Hikes can be three or four hours up in the Santa Monica Mountains. They have been nourishing.


Q: What is something you do to enhance your social well-being?

A: The act of giving enhances my social well-being. The times I have felt particularly lonely or sad, I always felt better if I reached out to people for help. Working in patient care, there is a huge component of that, of helping and being useful and making a difference. Those are things that are important to me.


Q: How has interacting with others enhanced your social well-being?

A: I was alone a lot with my young kids and my partner was gone a lot. Not having much family around here, I had old friends that would reach out to me, and say “You are going to take a personal day Wendy. You are going to bike on the beach with me.” They made an effort to make sure that I was okay, and that’s what friends are for. Just even that one moment in a six-week period, going out with a friend was powerful. Friends who give you quality time can get you through those lonely moments.


Q: How do you think social well-being has changed from your time in college to nowadays?

In my time, a lot of friends and my friends at colleges and I wrote letters to each other in order to catch up. Nowadays, there’s such instant communication between your friends and spaces that you can often just not engage with friends on your own campus because you are in constant communication with friends from other places. It’s important to have people physically there with you.


Q: What does social well-being mean to you?

A: Close meaningful relationships and love in your life. Love in your life could be through your dog or your sister. It doesn’t have to be through a partner. Being loved and loving enhances your social well-being.

If you want to gain more insight into Dr. Slusser’s mentality about living a healthy life, I encourage you to check out the TEDxUCLA talk that she gave in 2017 called “The Unapologetic Beauty of Focusing on your Strengths.”

The Unapologetic Beauty of Focusing on Your Strengths



Dr. Slusser’s story about social isolation is a reminder of how important it is to value our social well-being and practice self-care.

The transition to college, graduate school, or any new environment, can often be challenging. It can be scary to take the first step to reach out to others. If you feel isolated right now, I encourage you to look into student groups on campus that you share common interests with and attend a meeting or broaden your horizons and look into a new hobby or event. If you happen to know friends and family members who are struggling with social isolation, give them a call, set up a dinner and encourage them to take a “personal day.” There exists a lot of power in dedicating quality time to hanging out with the people we love and reminding them that they are not alone.

As Dr. Slusser so poignantly said, “Being loved and loving enhances your social well-being.”



liking gap 1

A New Perspective on Social Relations – The Liking Gap

With new classes, meetings, and events, the start of a new quarter opens the door for us to meet different people and form new relationships. Here is something that may change the way you think about meeting others!

Whether it be contacting potential new roommates, reaching out to professors, talking to strangers, or chatting with friends, establishing connections can often be daunting and create thoughts of doubt, fear, anxiety, and nervousness.

Why is it that something so fundamental is the root of so much worry and uncertainty?

Psychologists and researchers from Cornell, Harvard, University of Essex, and Yale University attempted to find out and documented their results in the article, “The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People like Us More Than We Think.”

What is the Liking Gap?  

The Liking Gap is the difference between how much people think others like them versus how much others actually like them. The article found that after people had conversations, people consistently underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them.

Why does it Exist?

The Liking Gap is attributed to multiple factors, including: (1) People do not fully express themselves and hide behind a guise of politeness. (2) People inhibit their true emotions in conversations for fear of being socially rejected (3) People are too consumed in their own thoughts of self-criticism that they fail to notice signals of their conversation partners liking them.

Five Experiments

Five experiments were conducted in order to study the Liking Gap. Each of the five studies reveals unique nuances to the Liking Gap phenomena.

Study 1a: People like others more than they perceive others like them.

Study 1a was conducted on people of all ages from a community near Yale University. In the study, two participants were paired up and instructed to have a conversation for around five minutes. After the conversations, the participants were separated and asked questions about how much they liked their conversations partners and how much they perceived their conversation partners liked them. The results showed that, on average, participants liked their conversation partners more than they perceived their conversation partners like them. The Liking Gap is confirmed in this interaction.

Study 1b: People fail to pick up on signals showing others found them likable.

Now that the Liking Gap had been addressed, researchers wanted to figure out whether or not the Liking Gap was justified. One hypothesis attributed the Liking Gap to a neglected-signal account, where people did outwardly show signals of interests in their conversation partners, but their conversation partners were unable to identify the signals. In Study 1b, two trained research assistants observed the conversations recorded in study 1a. The researchers estimated how much the subjects liked each other, based solely on the videos of the conversations. The results revealed that the researchers’ observations aligned with how much participants reported actually liking each other. Their observations, however, did not align with how much participants perceived others liking them. Study 1b supported the neglected-signal hypothesis of the Liking Gap. Even though physical signals indicating likability were shown , people were unable to pick up on the signals.

liking gap 2

Results of Studies 1a and 2: mean ratings of actual and perceived liking of conversation partners. From Boothby et. al. 2018.

Study 2: People are too busy forming negative thoughts about themselves to notice how much others like them.

Study 2 tried to uncover why people were missing signals from others showing interest towards them. The researchers hypothesized that participants were too consumed in their own thoughts that the participants were unable to pick up on signals from others. In the study, participants recruited from Yale University were instructed to converse for approximately 5 minutes. Other than assessing how much they enjoyed conversations with direct questions, participants were also asked to form their most salient thoughts about how their conversation partners viewed them and their most salient thoughts that they formed about their conversation partners. The results indicated that people’s most salient thoughts about how others viewed them were generally more negative than their most salient thoughts about how they viewed others. Participants salient thoughts were also affected by the Liking Gap, supporting the idea that people were too busy forming negative thoughts about themselves to notice signals of likability coming from others.  

Study 3: Even with longer conversations, people still underestimate how much others like them.

Study 3 was conducted in order to find out if the Liking Gap was dependent on the duration of conversations. Participants recruited from the Harvard Decisions Science Laboratory were instructed to have conversations for however long they wanted to and were then  asked to report on how much they liked others and how much they perceived others liking them. Generally, observations showed that no matter how long the conversation, people continuously underestimated how much their conversations partners liked them and enjoyed the conversations. The study also discovered that even participants who had longer conversations reported a Liking Gap. This study proved that even in longer conversations, where people would theoretically be given more time to open up to each other, people still underestimated how much others liked them.

Study 4: The Liking Gap exists outside the lab.

Since studies 1-3 were conducted in laboratories, the authors decided to conduct Study 4 at a public event to see whether or not the Liking Gap could be observed in natural settings. For the experiment, the investigators observed strangers who attended “How to Talk to Strangers” workshops. People were instructed to find a conversation partner and spend five minutes introducing themselves to others. Both pre-conversation and post-conversation questionnaires were given. The study revealed that pre-conversation, participants predicted that they would find their conversation partners to be more interesting than them and post-conversation, participants confirmed their initial thoughts and reported that their conversations partners were more interesting than them. The study highlighted how the Liking Gap persisted in natural settings.

Study 5: In college freshmen, the Liking Gap persisted until around May, when roommates move out or continue living together.

The last study was conducted on incoming first years to college, who were instructed to take five surveys over the length of the academic year. Through similar techniques and analysis, the researchers were able to find that the Liking Gap persisted between roommates in the first four surveys, from initial meeting in September to around February. In the last survey, however, which was taken in May, the Liking Gap ceased to exist and there was no underestimation in how much participants believed their roommates liked them. Researchers attributed the absence of the Liking Gap in the fifth study to the fact that roommates would be forced to have conversations about potentially rooming with one another for next academic year and uncertainties about whether or not people actually liked each other would be brought up to the surface.

liking gap 3

Results of Study 3: mean ratings of actual and perceived liking (left) and actual and perceived conversation enjoyment (right), separately for participants who engaged in short, medium, and long conversations. From Boothby et. al 2018.

Why is this important?

When people cannot comfortably express themselves, they leave conversations uncertain whether their conversation partners truly enjoyed their presence. This insecurity decreases their likelihood of connecting with that person again. The Liking Gap creates a barrier to forming new connections with others and reinforces overly self critical tendencies.

Acknowledging the Liking Gap can help us resist its impact on forming meaningful social connections. Think of all the relationships that could have been created had it not been for the Liking Gap. Our mistaken beliefs about people we have conversations with should not deter us from meeting people who have the potential to be great friends and mentors.

Because of the Liking Gap, we are often too caught up in our own thoughts of “oh, do they like me?” and are not present enough in the conversation. We are unable to provide our conversation partners with our attention and express ourselves fully. The Liking Gap shows us how pervasive negative thoughts can be and how they may affect our conversations and relationships.

Most importantly, understanding the Liking Gap can help us change the way we interact with others. The Liking Gap does not have to exist. We have the ability to recognize this pattern and recognize when we are limiting ourselves from more meaningful connections with others.

What should we do now?

As part of EngageWell, our mission is to promote social connection and foster greater social well-being in students staff and faculty. We encourage you to think about ways the Liking Gap may have kept you from creating meaningful relationships. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Start a conversation around the Liking Gap. I shared some of the findings in this post with my friends and many were extremely interested in the topic could relate to the experience.
  2. Reach out to someone you don’t know – professors, peers, TAs, faculty. You’ll be surprised at how differently you approach conversations without reservations of uncertainty
  3. Find someone that you initially had reservations in approaching and strike up a conversation. Do not let your fear of not being liked stop you from approaching potential friends!

The full article if you are interested:




Jessica Yang is a second year student majoring in Environmental Science with a concentration in Environmental Health. On top of blogging for Semel HCI, she is part of club swimming and hopes to pursue a career in healthcare in the future. 


Teaching Kitchen Connections: Social well-being through Food

On October 16th, I had the pleasure of attending a Teaching Kitchen class at Sur La Table in Westwood.

The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative is a national initiative created in 2016 dedicated to “enhancing personal and public health across medical, corporate school, and community settings.” UCLA’s own chapter of Teaching Kitchen was started by Janet Leader, MPH, RD, Associate Director of Field Studies in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Fielding School of Public Health, and Kaitlin Reid, MPH, RDN of UCLA Student Health Education and Promotion with support from the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative. The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative at UCLA has been offering classes since Spring 2017 to the health professional students including medical, dental, nursing, and public health. More recently, the TKC began to offer classes for UCLA undergraduates.

Through teaching kitchen classes, students are taught how to cook nutritious and affordable meals. All the while, students are given tips about integrating a healthier diet into their lives. The program also serves as a training ground for future dietitians. Stephanie Prideaux, a dietetic intern at the VA Greater Los Angeles and MPH student in the Fielding School of Public health showed students how to construct a nourishing meal using the MyPlate model and introduced students to resources on campus like the FITTED program where students can be offered free consultation with dietitians.

As Kaitlin Reid, one of the leading dietitians of UCLA’s Teaching Kitchen states, “In these classes, students are given the opportunity to strengthen skills and knowledge that serve their personal well-being now and in the future. They learn a holistic approach to feeding themselves which includes maximizing ingredients, connecting to the experience (and the people), and minimizing common misbeliefs about food and nutrition.”


Collaborative Cooking

Teaching Kitchen goes far beyond its perceived appearance of educating students about eating healthier. It is also a catalyst in helping students foster social connections.

As I walked into the room at Sur La Table, students were in the middle of preparing the Tex-Mex pasta salad chef Claire from Sur La Table had briefed them on. Everything, from the process of cutting the vegetables to cooking the pasta to sampling the food required collaboration. One student cut the avocado while another student seasoned the salad and another student mixed the ingredients together. And as food was being prepared, students were in constant communication, ensuring all members of the group participated. Perhaps the salad was not salty enough or needed more vegetables. Other group members would collectively acknowledge the comment and more of an ingredient would be added. Making great food demanded inclusion, collaboration, and unity.

While vegetables were being chopped, I heard one student ask another, “Can I share the cutting board with you?” and the other happily obliged. After the food was prepared, students took sampling spoons and reached into the large bowl to sample their creation. The collective “yum hmm…” as everybody enjoyed the food was hard to miss.

Students prepared fresh veggies, tuna salad, chicken salad, and tomato soup in addition to the pasta salad. Once the food was done cooking, it was time to eat. As students scooped food into their bowls, conversation flourished. Students began to chat about their majors and why they signed up for the teaching kitchen class. They joked around and discussed their personal lives. Janet, Stephanie, Claire, and Kaitlin also asked questions and engaged in conversation with students. If nothing else, students were able to talk about how the food tasted. (The food tasted phenomenal, by the way. I had the chance to sample the food and needless to say, I will never question the utility of a can of tomatoes, which can be used as pasta sauce, soup, and a dip). The Teaching Kitchen cultivated an atmosphere of warmth and social stimulation. New acquaintances and friendships emerged through food.


Connecting with Common Goals

Students came to the Teaching Kitchen with a common goal of learning how to cook healthy and nutritious meals. This common goal created a connection – a similar mindset for health and wellness. In the end, they were rewarded with potential new friends who they could call upon to cook future meals, walk to the farmers market, or hang out. The two-hour Teaching Kitchen was a great forum that fostered new connections and inclusivity and was an incredible experience to be a part of.

Upon leaving the Teaching Kitchen, students took a survey providing feedback about the event. These responses are a testament to the success of the Teaching Kitchen:

“Fun class which can let you make new friends by collaboration”

“This event was really awesome and was a great stress reliever and fun event to go to during the school week”

“The wealth of information it gave me regarding UCLA resources, and programs as well as good basic cooking knowledge with local store info to get them”


Food and Connection Throughout the Ages

The correlation between food and connection is not a new idea.

Food has brought people together for many centuries. The National Geographic writes in a feature on the Joy of Food “To break bread together […] captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter.” When people sit down together to prepare and enjoy a meal, they are able to share aspects of their life with other people. In the case of the Teaching Kitchen, students who may not have otherwise met each other collaborated and bonded over food, bringing about a sense of belonging.

Food is an essential part of everyday life. People need to eat food to sustain themselves, and as a result, food is often used as a vehicle for social connection. Personally, I use food as an excuse to see my friends more often in the midst of everybody’s busy schedules. Food is necessary and everybody has to eat, so it’s very easy to say “Hey, I need dinner and you need dinner. Let’s grab dinner together!”

If students want to get involved in the Teaching Kitchen, whether to learn more about food or to engage with other students, they should definitely sign up for a Teaching Kitchen class. Classes are currently dependent on funding available but its organizers are actively exploring ways to expand the program to serve more students. In fact, there are plans in the works to build a teaching kitchen on campus in the LA Tennis Center, which should be ready for classes by the summer of 2019.

I challenge all students to be creative in transforming the every day and necessary parts of life into outlets for greater connection, engagement, and nourishment.




Here’s an article linking food and social relationships you should read if you have the time:



Jessica Yang is a second year student majoring in Environmental Science with a concentration in Environmental Health. On top of blogging for Semel HCI, she is part of club swimming and hopes to pursue a career in healthcare in the future. 



How to stay grateful after Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has come and gone; taking with it the feeling of fall coziness and the smell of pumpkin pie, and leaving behind the lure of winter break and an extended vacation. While some families celebrate in the traditional Thanksgiving style, with a roast turkey and everyone listing what they’re thankful for before dinner, others denounce the holiday as a glorification of the abuse of Native Americans. Still others don’t celebrate at all, as Thanksgiving is an American holiday not often observed by UCLA’s international students. Regardless of your opinion on Thanksgiving, it’s worth considering adopting its central theme, thankfulness, as acknowledging your gratitude can be an extremely effective and efficient way to improve your quality of life.

In fact, research shows that reminding yourself of what it is you are grateful for about a loved one has a “uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.” But gratitude won’t just improve your relationships. It’s also been proven that “the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.”

Here are three ways you can incorporate practicing gratitude into your daily life.

  1. Start the day by writing down one thing you’re grateful for.

Keeping a small notebook filled with lists of good things in your life is not just a cute idea you can find all over Pinterest. It’s a great way to set a focus for your day in addition to practicing gratitude. When you write down the best things going on in your life, you’re forcing yourself to acknowledge what does and does not matter, thereby better defining your own values while practicing gratitude – it’s the perfect two birds with one stone!

  1. Say thank you once a day.

Muttering “thanks” as you rush forward to catch a door held open for you doesn’t count. Make it a goal to thank someone for something that required time and effort once a day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something they did for you; you could thank them for an inspiring post they made on social media or for a positive quality they possess that you’ve always admired, but never felt able to mention. Using your gratitude practice as an excuse, you can tell the people you love that you’ve always thought the way they handle themselves under pressure is amazing, that you really appreciate how they’re always suggesting fun things for you to do together, or any other compliment that has been on the tip of your tongue.

  1. Think about what your life would be like without the good things that have happened to you.

Perhaps rather counterintuitively, research on gratitude also shows that sometimes all it takes to feel incredibly lucky is to imagine your life without the people and events that make it special. Spend time thinking about what it would be like if you hadn’t met your best friend, or if you had never gotten that acceptance letter or taken that amazing class. Everyone has the occasional fantasy about redesigning their life, but if you think about the good things you do have, it’s scientifically proven to have a positive effect on your outlook.

Practicing gratitude can be hard. More often than not, we’re hardwired to focus more on the negative, and with the stress of finals coming up, it’s hard to find the time to count yourself as lucky. But gratitude is all about recognizing that each annoyance and stressor in your life is just one part of a much larger whole, and when you’re able to realize that, not only do you have an increased ability to turn those negatives into positives, you also have the motivation you’ll need to do it.

If you want to learn more, check out one of our older posts about a series of short films on what gratitude is, why it’s important, and tools to foster more of it in your daily life.  

Maya McNealis is a second year neuroscience student. In addition to writing for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is a news reporter for the Daily Bruin.