“How often do you feel close to people?” As many as 30 percent of Americans don’t feel close to people at a given time…
Natural selection favored people who needed people. Humans are vastly more social than most other mammals, even most primates, and to develop what neuroscientists call our social brain, we had to be good at cooperating. To raise our children, with their slow-maturing cerebral cortexes, we needed help from the tribe. To stoke the fires that cooked the meat that gave us the protein that sustained our calorically greedy gray matter, we had to organize night watches. But compared with our predators, we were small and weak. They came after us with swift strides. We ran in a comparative waddle.
So what would happen if one of us wandered off from her little band, or got kicked out of it because she’d slacked off or been caught stealing? She’d find herself alone on the savanna, a fine treat for a bunch of lions. She’d be exposed to attacks from marauders. If her nervous system went into overdrive at perceiving her isolation, well, that would have just sent her scurrying home. Cacioppo thinks we’re hardwired to find life unpleasant outside the safety of trusted friends and family, just as we’re pre-programmed to find certain foods disgusting.
Jay is all about connecting people to people to improve health. It’s a great personal mission.
Good reading. Stuff I kind of knew already—but organized and argued in a way that I hadn’t fully considered. I’m surprised the author didn’t also discuss findings of the Adverse Childhood Experiences studies, given the connection she made between childhood loneliness, chronic illness, and parenting presence being greatly decreased in lower socioeconomic households.
I liked this hopeful ending note:
“But there’s something awe-inspiring about our resilience, too. Put an orphan in foster care, and his brain will repair its missing connections. Teach a lonely person to respond to others without fear and paranoia, and over time, her body will make fewer stress hormones and get less sick from them. Care for a pet or start believing in a supernatural being and your score on the UCLA Loneliness Scale will go down. Even an act as simple as joining an athletic team or a church can lead to what Cole calls ‘molecular remodeling.’”
Human plasticity. So damn cool.
Related but not: I’m always in a constant state of wonder over humans as an organism. It’s amazing to consider how our various biologic systems interact and feedback to each other in response to a myriad of outside factors. I may not have gotten a career directly out of my Human Biology undergraduate degree, but I am comforted by knowing that my life-long geeky passion will never fade.