Here at SPSP 2012 I’ve been enjoying the sunny, warm weather, eating more than I should and sleeping less, and gathering interesting tidbits of information about social relationships from across the talks and posters that I’ve seen. Here are a few of the findings that stood out to me:
Physical instability can lead to perceptions of relationship instability. One set of researchers had people in romantic relationships sit in either a stable chair or a very slightly wobbly chair and those in the wobbly chair were less certain that they would still be with their partner in the future.
Empathizing with others' good fortune is fortunate for you as well. Sylvia Morelli and Matthew Lieberman found that while empathizing with someone else’s negative experiences activated regions of the brain associated with negative affect, empathizing with another person’s good fortunes activated areas of the brain associated with positive affect and reward.
Social connections and physical warmth activate similar brain regions. Naomi Eisenberger, who has shown that social rejection looks like physical pain in the brain, showed that social connection (in this case, reading emails from close friends and family detailing why the participant is important to them) activates regions of the brain associated with thermo-regulation and physical warmth.
Social isolation kills. At the beginning of Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s talk, she mentioned that not having sufficient social support is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Stephanie Brown talked about the fact that when we do engage in social connection and help out those who are close to us, we are healthier and happier. Also, Naomi Eisenberger showed that providing support to a close other is a rewarding experience.
Giving is good for team performance. As part of a series of talks focused on the idea that "giving is good" (organized by Juli!), Lara Aknin showed us some very impressive graphs illustrating that teams who are given money to spend on each other increase their performance relative to teams who are given money to spend on themselves. These results generalized from pharmaceutical sales teams to dodge ball teams. Just another way in which social connections promote better outcomes.
Eisenberger, N. (2003). Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion Science, 302 (5643), 290-292 DOI: 10.1126/science.1089134