Monday, October 15, 2012

Secret Lives of Men - Loneliness - The Need for Social Connection

This week's Secret Lives of Men podcast is a replay - but it's a good one. Dr. Blazina discusses the human need to social contact and social connection. John T. Cacioppo (director of the University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience) and William Patrick (editor of the Journal of Life Sciences) are the authors of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, an excerpt from which is posted below the podcast.

Listen to the Secret Lives of Men on Blog Talk Radio

Loneliness - The Need for Social Connection

University of Chicago research psychologist Cacioppo shows in studies that loneliness can be harmful to our overall well-being. Loneliness, he says, impairs the ability to feel trust and affection, and people who lack emotional intimacy are less able to exercise good judgment in socially ambiguous situations; this makes them more vulnerable to bullying as children and exploitation by unscrupulous salespeople in old age. But Cacioppo and Patrick (editor of the Journal of Life Sciences) want primarily to apply evolutionary psychology to explain how our brains have become hard-wired to have regular contact with others to aid survival. So intense is the need to connect, say the authors, that isolated individuals sometimes form parasocial relations with pets or TV characters.
Here is a small excerpt posted at Spirituality and Practice:
EASE Your Way to Social Connection

E for Extend Yourself

"The withdrawal and passivity associated with loneliness are motivated by the perception of being threatened. To be able to test other ways of behaving without that feeling of danger, you need a safe place to experiment, and you need to start small. Don't focus on trying to find the love of your life or to reinvent yourself all at once. Just slip a toe in the water. Play with the idea of trying to get small doses of the positive sensations that come from positive social interactions. The simplest moments of connection, especially when they involve 'feeding others,' carry an emotional uplift that does not require taking a pill, working up a sweat, or eating truckloads of cruciferous vegetables. Just don't expect too much all at once.

"You may want to begin your experiment by reaching out in simple exchanges at the grocery store or at the library. Remember, if you do so, not to place any expectation on the other person. Just saying 'Isn't it a beautiful day?' or 'I loved that book' can bring a friendly response that makes you feel better. You sent out a small social signal, and somebody signaled back. But what if the response isn't so friendly, or you get no response at all? Maybe the person to whom you say something nice is having a rotten day. Maybe he or she is worried about a sick child, or just got an overdraft notice from the bank. A million and one factors that have absolutely nothing to do with you can influence people's moods and reactions. That's why it is important, when you begin to practice this new behavior, to make no assumptions, and to limit your objectives. You may not find that simple moment of shared human contact every time you reach out. And when you do find it, you will not necessarily have found a new bosom buddy. You need to proceed more like the birder who sees a Yellow-Eyed Junco. You feel the good feeling, mark it on your life list and move on.

"To improve your odds of eliciting a positive reaction — and reduce your odds of being disappointed — you may want to confine your experimental outreach to the somewhat safer confines of charitable activities. Volunteer at a shelter or a hospice, teach elders how to use computers, tutor children, read to the blind, or help with kids' sports team. You will not necessarily receive gratitude and praise for your good deeds — that's not what you're after — but it is also unlikely that you will receive scathing social punishment. There will be no big scene of fulfillment in which you are at long last voted football captain or prom queen, nor will you immediately fall into a relationship with a movie star. But you may begin to feel the positive sensations that can reinforce your desire to change, while building your confidence, while improving your ability to self-regulate. Even 'small talk' about sports or the weather, when it is welcomed and shared, can be a co-regulating, calming device, and the positive change it can bring to our body chemistry can help us get beyond the fearful outlook that holds us back."

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