Social life is important to the survival of most species. It is hard to think of any animal for whom the regulation of social behaviour is not important. For us, as human beings, social life shapes our thoughts, behaviours, physiology, and neural activity. However, being social is far from easy, automatic, or infinite.
Increasing Serotonin Function enhances prosocial behaviour and cooperation.
Oxytocin can altered behaviour in a way that indicated increased trust in others.
The complexities of our social world are underpinned by our most important social capacity, theory of mind—the ability to adopt the perspectives of others— that can increase competition as much as it increases cooperation, highlighting the emotions and desires of those we like as well as those we dislike.
Much of our success as species comes from our ability to actively listen and learn from each other and support one another.
However, a shift toward a nomadic and on-the-go type of society together with the complexities of our social world makes social circles with family, friends and acquaintances less readily available for companionship.
We now know that people that are socially connected to their family, friends, or their community are happier and live physically and mentally healthier for longer than people who are less well connected.
Friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health forming one of the foundations of our ability to cope with what life may throw at us.
Our friends can help us feel grounded and get a perspective in life. So, nurturing our friendships and making new friends is an essential part to maintaining our quality of life.
Psychotherapy can help you shift unhelpful beliefs, that affect your behaviour and impact on your emotions and the way you relate to others.
Talk to us, we are here to help!
This morning, in the queue for the post office, I saw a gentleman ask a student for the time, but she was too engrossed scrolling through social media with headphones in to even notice he was there.
On Tuesday, I felt I was due a ‘catch up’ with my friend – who lives a couple of streets across from me – so I Snapchatted her, “long time no see, what have you been up to lately?” and we messaged intermittently throughout the day.
Last year, my lecturers held office hours every Friday, but instead I thought it’d be easier to just e-mail them my question about the assignment.
This evening, my sister and I saw the most beautiful sunset; candyfloss clouds; a flock of birds soaring through the rose-petal hues… and the first thing we did was reach for our phones to take a picture for Instagram.
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Social Media and technology
The ubiquity of today’s social media and technology is causing missed opportunities for memories and connections to be made through real-life interaction.
The 2020 Global Digital Overview reported that the average time that Internet users aged 16-64 spend online per day is nearly 7 hours, worldwide. Humans are social creatures that crave belonging, companionship and connection.
Just as we need food, water, or sleep, to survive, we need authentic and personal human contact. Physical face-to-face communication is one of the most fundamental contributors to our psychological wellbeing. Yet we are constantly choosing to communicate via online mechanisms instead.
Social media has bought about an ease of connectivity, with family or friends or colleagues, though with this comes a sense of disconnection.
The vortex of social media creates an urgency to share our lives in two-dimensionality with one another; replacing, remoulding, or fragmenting our precious three-dimensional relationships in the real world.
Comparing social interaction with social media, online conversation often generates misunderstanding and lacks the quality of physical interconnection.
Receiving a text or emoji from a friend is not the same as receiving a hug. Or is it?
Oxytocin, often referred to as the “hug hormone”, is a powerful hormone that promotes feelings of love, social bonding, and wellbeing. Levels of oxytocin are boosted when we enjoy strong social connections, so staying connected is one way to make ourselves physically and mentally healthier.
Studies have looked at whether the connections produced via social media are strong enough to exert these effects.
Paul Zak tested oxytocin levels while using Twitter – in ten minutes of tweeting, the participant’s oxytocin increased by 13.2% (that is, the equivalent to the hormonal spike experienced by a groom at a wedding!), while their stress hormones lowered. Research like this suggests that the brain processes online interactions similarly to physical ones, but this isn’t conclusive. Social media could be producing counterfeit oxytocin; not the pure stuff!
What are our screens and devices doing to us? Psychologist Adam Alter studies how much time screens steal from us and how they're getting away with it. He shares why all those hours you spend staring at your smartphone, tablet or computer might be making you miserable -- and what you can do about it.
A scary way to look at it
The truth is, the widespread rise of electronic devices and social media hasn’t been around long enough for us to know the long-term effects of it.
Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, says that, “we’re all pawns in a grand experiment to be manipulated by digital stimuli to which no one has given explicit consent”. It’s a scary way to look at it, but we should be mindful of its potential consequences.
We can’t put the genie back in the bottle – today, technology and social media is central to how billions of people interact with the world and is essential for both work and play, especially in times of COVID-19 which have exacerbated these (and many other) issues. But we can appreciate the positives that it brings to our lives, like freedom of expression, our connections with loved ones no longer being limited to physical places, and access to information at our fingertips.
The key is being aware of and ameliorating its harmful effects, forming healthy online habits, and finding a balance.
Here are some tips
For example, try to avoid checking social media first thing in the morning, or just before bed – the blue light can disrupt the quality of your sleep, which is important for both your physical and psychological health.
Don’t mindlessly scroll for long periods of time; try to be intentional when using social media, by practicing being mindful of what you’re seeing, thinking and feeling.
Think about how the accounts you follow make you feel – Inspired? Or jealous? Don’t follow accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself, but importantly remember not to compare your life to somebody else’s highlight reel (people tend to only share the best bits of their life on social media).
It’s a good idea to allocate social media-free time slots in your daily routine. Perhaps you could take a social media detox when you feel overwhelmed, whether that be for 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month. Regardless, consider limiting your screen-time.
Strong links have been found between excessive social media use and anxiety and depression, and studies show that people who limit their time spent on social media to less than 30 minutes a day report happier moods and feelings.
Use social media to facilitate connecting with people in real-life. Ask that friend out for a coffee!
And finally, live in the moment! Don’t worry about getting the perfect picture for social media (like my sister and I did with the sunset), focus on being fully present and making memories.
Honour your depth and remember that social media is a two-dimensional speck in the richness of your multidimensional self.
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