Communication experts: Give the gift of 'Refrigerator Rights' this holiday season

December 15, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The holidays are not only a time to open your home but also your fridge to family and friends, say experts from Purdue University.

"The premise of 'Refrigerator Rights' is that Americans have fewer meaningful relationships in their lives because of increasing media distractions and live farther away from each other," says Glenn Sparks, a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection." "Our take is that fewer people feel comfortable enough with each other to visit their homes and to grab a drink or snack from their fridge. Fewer 'Refrigerator Rights' means people are more isolated than ever before as they are consumed with their personal technological devices and have moved away from their families."

Because people are not as connected with their family, there is greater tension present during holiday visits.

"It can be uncomfortable to have family members over for the holidays, and part of that is because it's a reminder that people don't have enough people in their life year round," says Will Miller, co-author of "Refrigerator Rights." "These relationships are needed throughout the year."

Some suggestions to help reconnect with family and friends during holiday visits are:

* Turn off the TV, even the big game.

* Put away personal devices so the temptation to keep checking them is gone.

* Make an effort to visit and talk. If out of habit, it will be tough to reconnect, so be patient.

"The art of conversation is lost," Sparks says. "Small talk and visiting is not as easy at it was 15 years ago because people are constantly checking their phones. They have less practice in carrying on a clear, coherent and casual conversation."

"Refrigerator Rights" was published in 2002, and a second edition was recently released.

Sparks is an expert in mass media effects including media violence, scary TV images and how communication technologies affect interpersonal relationships. Miller, an instructor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, is a mental health expert who also was an on-air spokesman for Nick-at-Night and host of NBC's "The Other Side." 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Sources: Glenn Sparks,

Will Miller, 

Related website: College of Liberal Arts 

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