Friends With Benefits!

Friends With Benefits!

Having many positive social connections doesn’t just increase your happiness; it can also help perform on the job!

John T. Cacioppo, a professor at University of Chicago, studies the way human beings function socially and the impact the social world has on brain functioning. He led a study of 229 people between 50 and 68 years old, finding a 30-point difference in blood pressure between those who experienced loneliness and those with healthy social connections. Loneliness, the study showed, could significantly increase the risk of death from stroke and heart disease. As Cacioppo tried to understand the data, he realized that loneliness might be more important than society generally realizes. “Loneliness generates a threat response, ‘ Cacioppo explains, ”the same as pain, thirst, hunger, or fear.” Being connected to others in a positive way, feeling a sense of relatedness, is a basic need for human beings, similar to eating and drinking.

For those of you who think that “hell is other people,” remember that social isolation is not the brain’s desired state. Having friends around you reduces a deeply ingrained biological threat response.

Surrounding yourself with friends not only helps you think better, it also enables you to see situations from novel perspectives, by “looking through other people’s eyes.” Friends provide a helping hand for that all-important but cognitively expensive emotional regulation tool, reappraisal. In the same way, having people your trust around can also help bring about insights, by broadening thinking and helping you to see your own thinking. This is all much more likely when people see each other as friend, not foe.

Having friends helps you change your brain, because you get to speak out loud more often. One experiment showed that when people repeated out loud what they were learning, the speed of their learning and their ability to apply that learning to other situations increased. When you speak to someone about an idea, many more parts of the brain are activated than just thinking about the idea, including memory regions, language regions, and motor centers. This is a process called Spreading activation. Spreading activation makes it easier to recall ideas later on, as you have left a wider trail of connections to follow.

All of these are applicable at work too! We might chose to play different roles but we are finally ‘one’ individual and people like to see all facets of an individual. Being vulnerable at work or in life may be considered a ‘NO-NO’, but that is something that builds trust and there is enough brain science to prove it!

Courtesy Dr David Rock- Know your brain, transform your performance