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Posts from the ‘Foundational Paper’ Category

The Social Brain

Medicine and Science in An Interconnected World

In 1977 George Engel, a psychiatrist, introduced a concept that shifted the medical model away from a strict focus on pathology toward a more nuanced and complex formulation of human illness and health: the biopsychosocial model. What this model promotes it a consideration of the multiple factors that influence a person’s health and well-being, including biological, psychological, and social factors.

Increasingly, since the advent of this idea, healthcare practitioners are moving away from the strict treatment of isolated symptoms and exploring how things like lifestyle, diet, relationship, beliefs, and even the way a person sits while driving a car can impact health. For example, a patient reporting an upset stomach may indicate that the person has contracted a parasite or some kind of infection. But a stomachache may also be a result of too much stress on the job or the outcome of an unresolved fight with a best friend. Within the biopsychosocial model, all of these factors would be examined before a treatment plan would be implemented. This model also exemplifies how influenced we are, as individuals, by those around us: family, friends, colleagues, and even consequential strangers. Rather than being static, isolated bodies that develop disease, the biopsychosocial model focuses on interconnectivity, multiple pathways to both disease and health, and the dynamic nature of human experience. Within this new worldview of medicine, scientific research has demonstrated that our brains are biopsychosocial organs and wire us to those around us into an ever-evolving web of social relations. Our social brains are wired for connection and social interaction.

Neuroscience: The Frontier of the Brain and Mind

At the same time that shifts in the medical model were moving our concepts away from a strict disease model toward focus on prevention and well-being, immense strides in technology enabled medical experts, biologists, neurologists, and social scientists greater access to the study of the brain. During the first half of the twentieth century, in the early years of psychology, the field most concerned with human behavior, experts in both research and clinical practice relied almost exclusively on the concept of behaviorism to explain how and why humans do… Read more

The Science of Online Friendship

Making friends in the real world in real-time is something that most of us learn very early in life, and was the basis for the Mechanics of Friendship paper (Brooks, 2012b).  We have millennia of opinions, and decades of empirical research, about face-to-face friendship.  In the last decade, however, we have just begun to understand our virtual friends—how we make and keep friends online, how we interact with them, and the benefits of an increased social network.  While early research on social network sites (SNSs) suggested that we may more-regularly interact with existing, offline friends via SNSs (Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2007), creating new connections online or solidifying tentative connections made offline, thereby increasing a person’s bonding and bridging social capital, is also important.  Understanding the importance of social capital, or the resources a person can rely on for personal and social support, offers insights into the importance of social contact to maintain social ties.  Higher levels of social capital have been linked to many benefits such as greater commitment to community and psychological well-being (Ellison et al., 2007).

Research related to the impact, effects, and benefits of making and maintaining friends via online social media, what we refer to as the Science of Online Friendship, in many ways, challenges three common cultural internet memes which have sprung up in the past several years, each of which are explored below.

Internet Meme #1
It Is Hard to Make Friends These Days, We Are Socially Isolated and Lonely

Major online media outlets, including the New York Times and the Huffington Post, consistently run opinion pieces and soft news features about the challenges faced by early to mid-life adults of making friendships with all of the pressures of modern life.  In his piece, “Friends of a Certain Age” New York Times columnist Alex Williams (2012), cites lack of time as well as increased discernment about including new people in his life as factors in, what he perceives, as difficulty in making and thus maintaining new friendships after age 30.  He put it bluntly with regard to making new friends: “life gets in the way” (para. 4).  But this argument may be too simplistic.  As self-proclaimed “friendship strategist” Shasta Nelson (2011) argues, friendships take work.  Like much of the research on friendship (see Brooks 2012a; Brooks 2012b), Nelson reiterates that there are two elements crucial to friendship: chemistry and… Read more

The Fundamental Concepts of Friendship

Throughout out lives, we experience a variety of relationships: parents, siblings, romantic partners, and friends. According to a pair of leading social scientists, a “relationship refers to a pair of persons who are interdependent with each other, that is, each person affects and is affected by the behavior of the other person over time” (Collins van Dulmen, 2006).

The idea of relationship, in this context refers primarily to the intimate connections in our personal lives, while nonetheless, some individuals also consider close colleagues at work or in civic situations as friends as well. Thus, the concept of friendship is an ever-changing, yet crucial part of human experience across time and culture. Ancient Greek philosophers wrote about its importance: Holmes and Greco (2011) noted that, “Friendship is not only a ‘virtue,’ according to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, but a social practice: a social relationship between two individuals who freely choose and mutually trust each other” (para. 1.1). We are born into a biological family, but we have the power and freedom to choose our friends; to affiliate with and spend the majority of our social time with individuals picked based upon something like a common interest or successful mutual emotional support (Peel, Reid, Walter, 2009).

As Barbara Caine (2009) argues, with the decline in marriage rates as well as many women choosing to put off childbearing until later in life, friendships are becoming increasingly vital social… Read more