Blog Post

Becoming More Social by Being Alone (…and Meditating!)

 

Humans need to be social. At least, that is what research conducted in a 2004 study by Marilynn Brewer and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review suggests. Our survival apparently depends on a mutualistic relationship with others, and our ability to interact well in a social group is highly valued as an important skill that is necessary to succeed in today’s society. As humans, we typically enjoy feeling a sense of community and being involved with other people. We enjoy cooperating with others for the promise that they will cooperate with us. Conversely, we fear exclusion from social groups. In this way, being socially connected to others is good for both our psychological and physical well-being.

Could this intrinsic need to thrive socially be what makes the use of online social networks so popular? One would think that being plugged into an online social network allows one to gain this human necessity of belonging to a group. With millions of users to interact with at your fingertips, how could you not feel social when belonging to a social network? Multiple modes of technological communication further facilitate human-to-human interaction that has almost entirely replaced face-to-face communication.  After all, online social networks provide a quick and easy way for people to share ideas and to receive feedback on these ideas from others. It is likewise just as easy to feel excluded if you are not participating in a social network.

Interestingly enough, trends of depression and social isolation increase the more involved people are in social networks. In a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, Kim et al. that depression and suicidal ideology was most prevalent among adolescents identified as having an “internet addiction”. Technological advancements have changed our lives so dramatically that we actually have smaller social groups and an overall greater distrust of other people in general. In an increasingly technology dependent world, how then do we fulfill our primitive social needs? The answer, perhaps, lies in meditation.

The idea that we could increase our social connectedness by isolating ourselves and meditating seems somewhat counterintuitive, but that is precisely what is shown in a study published by Emotion and conducted by Stanford University researchers Hutcherson, Seppala, and Gross in 2008. By using a specific kind of meditation, loving-kindness meditation, subjects who engaged in the guided meditation showed greater measureable feelings of positivity towards others, regardless if they had met them before or not. In short, loving-kindness meditation is a specific kind of meditation in which participants focus on expanding feelings of affection and kindness towards other people. Like most forms of meditation, participants begin by becoming aware of their breathing and then concentrating on an already existing feeling of compassion that they have towards someone in their life, such as a child or close family member. Subsequently, the participants focus on transmitting these positive feelings towards another person or even an imagined person. In comparison to the observations from a control group that did not participate in the guided loving-kindness meditation, results from the study show that even after just seven minutes of meditation, feelings of positivity towards others and overall social connectedness substantially increased. While it is clear that more research should be done to understand the physiological effects of the meditation on the brain and why it changes our behavior so drastically, it is certainly a promising piece of evidence that could even perhaps be used to develop social skills of those who have difficulty in social situations.

Indeed loving-kindness meditation poses great promise for the future. As neural mechanisms become better known, we can expect to better understand the physiological mechanisms that meditation induces. While the use of loving-kindness meditation may not replace online social networks altogether as a means to promote social connectedness, greater awareness of its abilities could potentially provide an escape from social isolation in an increasingly technology-obsessed world.

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1 comment

I truly agree, becoming social has many positive effects on us personally. It even goes far enough to even help us become healthier. We cool down from stressful situations which is very helpful in our daily stress filled lives. The recovery rate from illness can increase. The support from others encourages us to become healthier as well by exercising or having a better lifestyle. By being social we all become a better version of us. We bring out the good characteristics from our inner self’s such as caring, fun, understanding, and many more. When we are able to be understand each other things become a lot easier among us and can clear any misconceptions.  Becoming social even gives us a sense of identity. We even become able to share our own ideas to others and be able to grow and prosper as a whole. Everyone being able to share ideas gives life an increased meaningful depth. http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/connecting/connection-happiness

However, like you said with more social interaction on social networks can become an issue. Becoming addicted to anything can be a major problem, and that goes for internet addiction as well. Negative effects from internet addiction are anxiety, depression, loss on social support, and also becoming stressed. Anxiety arises from being overly involved in the internet. That is a very interesting statement about meditation becoming a solution. Meditation sounds like a great way to approach this primarily because of all the positive effects proven from it as of now. Medication can also bring out an inner peace from us. That allows us to be more peaceful and transfer kindness to others as well. The information you have shared is remarkable that even with short amounts of meditation how a person can feel positive and having an increased social connection between others. I’m genuinely surprised that information regarding meditation and its benefits to internet addiction has not been widely presented. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/internet_cybersex_addiction.htm

 

  

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