We finally have the scientific equipment to verify what we have always known: our drive to be social, to be connected to each other, is actually hardwired. Our need for connection and drive towards empathy is not a result of environmental influences but rather a function built into the brain itself. Daniel Goleman, PhD, a New York Times science writer and bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, has taken his research to a whole new level and has published Social Intelligence.
Advances in neuroscience now allow us to observe brain activity while we are in the act of feeling. We can now witness that we are continuously forming brain to brain bridges- a two-way brain traffic system. In the same way that we can “catch” a cold from someone, we can “catch” their bad mood- or good mood. The significance of the relationship indicates how deeply we are affected and will stimulate actual physical consequences: hormonal response that magnifies stress (cortisol) or induces happiness (oxytocin).
Positive interactions and being surrounded by loving people actually works like a vitamin for your entire being. Negative relationships and interactions don’t just make us angry; they make us ill. As in other brain functions, this one also reflects our amazing neuro-plasticity. This is to say that our brains are continually building new connections- and no matter how young or old, anyone’s personality can be affected by other people. We literally heal each other through our social connections.
This news couldn’t come at a better time, as we continue to replace real interaction with techno-driven reality. Is it really dating when it is virtual? Are we connected to others when we only share words on a screen? More than any new technology, what we truly need is to develop a lifestyle which encourages deeper human connection. Overwhelmed with digital connectivity, it is easy to become oblivious to the people surrounding us. How often have you witnessed someone at a check out stand absorbed in some deep conversation on a cell phone and entirely oblivious to the person in front of them.
Real intimate connections don’t happen on the phone, in a text message or on IM: they require a real-life presence where we pay full attention to the people we live with. Empathy grows in our brain through eye contact, voice recognition, and touch – all of the time-intensive ways of knowing another person well enough that we can’t objectify them. Empathetic connections are the prime inhibitors of human cruelty. Scientists agree that the survival of our species depend on our ability to grow and develop this innate ability and a culture which encourages deep and true human connections.
So next time you’re feeling blue about the state of the world, turn off your electronic gadgetry and go for a walk, preferably holding hands with someone who loves you. Sustaining your love is not only good for you, but you may also be saving an endangered species!