In an often “me-centered” society, studies find that a dose of empathy, reaching out to others, and making social connections may just be the perfect medicine for the mind, body and soul — for both the giver and recipient.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, psychology researcher and author of the book “Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection,” studies how the effects of “micro-moments” of connection between others and ourselves, such as the exchange of a smile or a kind word, can improve emotional resilience, reduce the risk of suffering from depression or anxiety, and even boost your immune system.
“The positivity you feel when you’re connecting with others nourishes you more than any other source of positivity,” explains Fredrickson.
In 2013, Fredrickson and her research team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a six-week study testing the effects of meditation on stress. In this meditation practice, however, participants were asked to meditate on compassion and positive thoughts towards others in the group, rather than focusing on a specific mantra or the sound of their breathing.
At the end of the study, participants were tested for changes in vagal tone — the level of activity in the parasympathetic nervous system that regulates digestion and cardiovascular health. Findings showed that participants who reported an increase in positive feelings and social connections also had an increase in vagal tone.
“It’s good for you to have high vagal tone… it’s really a good predictor of both psychological and physical health,” explains Fredrickson in a radio interview.
And Fredrickson is not alone in this view.
Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Dr. Emma Seppälä, shares her support, stating in one of her recent blog posts, “Lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.”
She goes on to explain that people who feel more connected to others have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative, “and as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.”
“In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical wellbeing.”
By investing our energy in making social connections and adopting an outward facing focus rather than an inward facing focus, we not only add to the happiness of others, but increase our own wellbeing.
Assumption bachelor’s in psychology students can gain a greater understanding of the science behind social interactions and other social theories by taking PSY 210 Social Psychology. Through this course, students will examine topics including social perception, social cognition, attitudes, theories to self, interpersonal relations, group processes and more.
Psychology majors have the opportunity to gain more experience interacting with the Worcester community through volunteer service work Assumption performs each year. In a previous blog we discussed the many ways in which students can get involved, through the college’s Reach Out Center, Psychology club, Honor Society, and many other service groups on and off campus.