Saturday, January 28, 2012

SPSP 2012: Social Relationships Round-up

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.

Suggested Readings

Dunn, E., Aknin, L., & Norton, M. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness Science, 319 (5870), 1687-1688 DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952

Eisenberger, N. (2003). Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion Science, 302 (5643), 290-292 DOI: 10.1126/science.1089134


  1. those are some very interesting findings. i love how some of the research was done, i mean, who would have thought that sitting in a slightly wobbly chair would make you feel unsure whether you want to stay with your partner. it also makes me glad to see that being social with other human beings is good for you because i myself tend to be very social.

    1. I know! I'll be making sure my chairs are very stable from now on ;-). This finding is part of research on literal metaphors, which Juli writes more about here.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. I really love how you come up with this interesting topics! I find it grateful that you brought this one because it is very helpful and very self-motivating. Thanks for this one.

    I really like this phrase--"not having sufficient social support is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day."
    Meaning the less sociable you are the more sickness you get!lol.