The Power & Science of Social Connection: Emma Seppälä TEDx

Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Mohand Habchi I’d like to start with a question for you: just think about how many people
in your life you feel close enough to to share a personal problem with? You can just think for yourself
what that number is. A representative national survey was done where this question was asked to hundreds
of people across the United States. And what they found was
– this was done in 2004 – that the mean number
of close others that people have, that they feel close enough to share
a personal problem with, is two. And the mode, which is the greatest
number of people, said zero. That was over 25%
of Americans who said zero. That’s one in four people that you meet
everyday doesn’t feel that connection. What I’m going to share with you today,
is the science behind social connection and the secret of how we can
improve that in our lives. So let’s talk about what happens
when there’s no social connection, or low social connection in our lives. What the data is showing is that people with low social connection
have more anxiety, depression, it’s been linked to suicide
and also to violence, so a lot of perpetrators of violence acts
that we hear about in the news, are people who were severely isolated. It impacts us even at the cellular level where we find greater inflammation
for people who are very lonely. And when we take care of our health, we often think about going to the gym
and eating a proper diet. We don’t think about social connection. But actually, low social connection
is worst for us than smoking, obesity, and than high blood pressure. I’m just going to show the importance
that that has in our lives. On the other hand,
when social connection is present, a healthy level of social connection
predicts greater psychological well-being, better physical health,
increased immunity, faster recovery from disease,
and even longevity. So if you’re highly socially connected, you feel connected
to other people around you, you have a 50% increased
chance of longevity. In fact, we are wired for connection. Connection is something
that’s intrinsically natural to us. Thanks to mirror neurons in our brain,
we constantly resonate with other people, and what we mean by resonate, is that we are constantly mirroring
what’s going on with others. Think about someone close to you:
when they walk in the room, even before you’ve exchanged any words,
you can tell if they are doing well. Did something wonderful
happen in their life, or did something tragic happen? What we do is, when we observe someone,
internally, we’re mirroring them. And that’s at the basis of empathy. So when someone comes in
and frowns for example, the micro-muscles in our face are frowning
and we know that something is not right. Same thing with smiling muscles. Just think about when you see
someone walking on the street and tripping and falling. We immediately feel and impulse
to, “Oh! That must have hurt,” it’s kind of like an intrinsic feeling
of, “Wow, that must hurt.” In fact, the pain activation
that you see in the brain, is the same when you’re experiencing pain as when you’re observing
someone else being hurt. So, there is this overlap between our own pain
and seeing someone else’s pain. So, sometimes we think
that we’re these isolated individuals, walking around, not connected
to others, but it’s just not true. Even the way our brain is wired, [means] we’re wired to connect,
wired to feel empathy, wired to know what’s going on
with someone else. We’re so connected at that level. And actually, you might have noticed
that when you walk down on the hall and you smile at someone,
and they don’t smile back, you feel [uncomfortable]. But every time that happens,
I think, “that’s OK,” because I just activated
the micro-muscles in their face, chances are they’ll smile
at the next person they see. So we know that social connection
brings all of these benefits, and lack thereof is a problem. And we also know there’s an increase in loneliness
happening in the United States. The facts I shared with you
in the beginning were for 2004, but earlier in 1985,
there was a greater social network. So there’s a decline happening, people are living further and
further away from one another. and the number one reason that people
seek therapy today, is loneliness. So given this fact,
how can we increase social connection? Some people say: “Well,
I’m an introvert. I’m a loner. I don’t feel comfortable
with other people.” Or: “I’m so busy,
I can’t have a social life.” Another assumption is: “In order to connect with others,
I need to make myself more attractive. I need to maybe be more successful,
make more money, be thinner. I need to change myself, my appearance
or my achievements in order to connect.” But science says this is not so.
And that’s the good news. Your feeling of social connection,
the benefits of social connection, have nothing to do with the number
of friends you have actually. You might have heard of the expression
loneliness in a crowd. You can have a thousand friends, but if you don’t feel connected on
the inside, you get none of the benefits. The beauty about this
is that the benefits are a tighter subjective feeling
of connection to others. And what’s beautiful about that is that we don’t have control
over our external environment. We can’t always change
how many friends we have, we can’t always change
how successful and attractive we are. But one thing we do have a say over, is
our internal state, our subjective state. And what is the secret
to increasing that social connection? Well, one thing that the data suggests, is that compassion for others
and compassion for self might be the answer to that. Some people think: “Oh, compassion.
I’m not a compassionate person.” Or they think: “We’re
innately selfish people, and everyone, you know,
is self interested.” That’s a belief.
But what is the data saying? The data says that compassion
is innate. It’s our first instinct. And we see this not only in human beings
but in the animal kingdom. So let’s take rats for example. Rats are animals, that in general, we don’t have an extreme amount
of respect for perhaps. A rat will go out of its way
to help another rat who’s suffering, will actually pay a price, go over
obstacles and make that happen. Same as seen in primates. Primates will help
when they see another in need. And the same is also true
for two-year-olds. In order to examine
whether compassion is innate, researchers at the Max Planck Institute
work with two-year-olds – too young to have learned
the rules of politeness – and they observed that in a room
with an experimenter who needs help, who’s dropped something
and is desperately trying to reach for it, two-year-olds just get up
and walk over there and help. Even after the experimenter has put
all sorts of obstacles across the room, and that the babies have to crawl
over and under to get you. And help it’s a natural tendency. So what happens to adults?
It’s the same in adults. [There is] a recent study
with an economic game paradigm in which participants were given
a certain amount of money where they could either act fairly so they could share that money
with the other participants, or they could keep it
for themselves and hold it. When they were given only
a few seconds to think about it, the first reaction response was to share. Then if they were given
a few more minutes to think about it, they might change their mind,
but their first instinct is to share. Dale Miller at Stanford University
has also shown that people first instinct
is to share with adults, but sometimes they stop themselves. Why? Because they think other people
might think that they’re self-interested, because this is norm out there
that we are all self-interested. But our first instinct
is actually to share and this has been true for millennia. Often times we attribute
survival of the fittest as something Charles Darwin said. In fact, it was something
that Herbert Spencer said, and he had an agenda with it. His agenda was to justify
social and racial hierarchy. But actually, as Dacher Keltner
from UC Berkeley has pointed out, Darwin’s message could better be
translated as ‘survival of the kindest, ‘ because compassion is
what it helped us survive overtime. And Robert Sapolsky
at Stanford Medical School has shown some really
interesting experiments about that. He observed baboons in Africa, and he looked at the ones
that reproduce more. Well, guess what? The alpha males are out there
fighting, or hogging the food. So that, leaves the nice guys behind,
and they are with the ladies. They reproduce more. And actually, in one situation,
the alpha male has hogged all this food that was in a human waste dump,
and the food was infected. So all the sudden,
the alpha males have started dying of, and who was left was
the really cooperative nice guy males. And in fact, that tribe of baboons thrived much more
in this much cooperative atmosphere. And actually, same is
true for human beings. When you look at dating preferences
for men and women, though men and women differ in certain things
that they value highly in a partner, both value kindness as one of the highest things
that they look for in a mate. So compassion is something that is incredibly natural
and innate to us actually. Of course, compassion brings that sense
of social connection to focus on other, and the other thing
that increases compassion is self-compassion, interestingly. We often think, you know– we have to achieve,
and be self-critical, and push ourselves. But it’s been shown that when you do that, it’s actually detrimental
to your success, to your resilience. But when you apply
compassion to yourself, you’re more resilient
in the face of challenge. You’re better able to succeed. People think: “Oh, compassion.
It’s this touchy-feely term, soft.” Actually, it’s a source
of enormous strength, much more than we actually imagine. I want to share a story with you. I taught a similar lecture
at Stanford to some students, and one of the students emailed me
a couple of weeks later, and said that she had decided
to implement compassion in her life. So, she went back to her dorm, and there was one person
in her dorm who everybody avoided. This person had
a dark cloud over her head, always glared at everyone,
and didn’t talk to anyone. The student was aware
this person was very social isolated so she decided: “I’m going to smile
at this person every time I see her. In worst case scenario,
I activate her micro-muscles.” So this is what she did. And she did that for several weeks, and every time she smiled,
that woman glared at her. But she continued to smile. About a month into this, she said the girl came up to her
and said, “Thank you for seeing me.” It changed her life. And for many of us, we don’t realize
what one act of compassion can do. Not only it generates
connection within us, not only it generates
well-being, because it does; research shows that we’re happier
when we give than when we receive. If you ask people to spend money
on themselves or on someone else, they’re happier at the end of the day
if they spend money on others. Just think about it. This is not the messages we’re getting
from all of our marketing gurus out there who’re telling us to buy things
to be happy, it’s actually in giving. And this has been shown
in brain imaging studies as well. The most beautiful fact of our compassion
is that it’s incredibly contagious. Think about the time that you’ve seen someone
helps someone else – it might have been
a parent with a child, or you see someone helping
someone across the street – just think about the feeling
it generates within you. It’s kind of a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Sometimes we can be moved to tears. This is something Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia
called ‘a state of elevation.’ What happens when there’s elevation? When you feel that elevation,
you’re more likely to go and help others. And Nicholas Christakis
at Harvard has shown that if one person acts fairly, it impacts three degrees
of separation away from them. So if you’re a compassionate
person in your life, your wives, brothers, neighbors,
are also going to be more compassionate. Interestingly, the same
is true with happiness. We often think: “Why I should
take care of my happiness? Maybe it’s self-centered.” No! When you’re happy, it’s the same thing. And that’s how we create culture,
and compassion leads to happiness. Just think about it. When you have compassion
in your life, you feel connected, you feel all the benefits of connection, you’re benefited. Everyone who watches you,
everyone who lives with you, everyone who has the beautiful gift
of having you in their life also feels impacted and feels good,
and they become more compassionate. And then whoever you touch, whoever
you help in your life, also benefits. And that how you create culture. That’s how you create
a culture of compassion, and that I believe is
an idea worth spreading. Don’t you? (Applause)

  1. An outstanding talk about a topic that is crucial to the health and happiness of every individual. This talk will make a huge difference in each of our lives so share it with everyone you know.

  2.  I have been following Dr Seppala works for many years. What she is sharing in the language of science, I think affirms what so many of us know  and feel intuitively. I am excited and encouraged by what science is teaching us about social connection, and inspired by scientist who are committing their life to this important work.

  3. Compassion for self and compassion for others is the way to come out of loneliness! when the rat can support others why not human. Very well said Emma. Nice talk. 🙂

  4. This is such an valuable message. YES! This is an idea that should be spread to as many people as possible.  Thank you for all your research and education on compassion and for this very influential talk! 

  5. Thank you Dr. Seppala for your commitment to compassion, altruism research and education! So many people will benefit from your sharing these amazing scientific findings! Most of us know the detrimental effects of smoking, high blood pressure, obesity. The majority of us, I believe, are not aware of the problems that over 25 percent of the US population are facing with loneliness.  Your presentation really helps us to realize the importance of enhancing social connection, reaching out to our neighbors, our colleagues and to strangers.  Lovely: “Surviving of the Kindness”.

  6. I love how you are sharing this message of "survival of the kindest" and a culture of compassion – I am finding that so powerful. Thanks for all the wisdom in this video and for being such an inspiration.

  7. This is such a powerful and amazing talk! Thank you Emma for all the amazing work you do and for sharing it with others. You are an inspiration!

  8. So heart-warming! I can never quite get it, why what most people know deep down has to be proved before they'll actually believe it. But thanks to people like you, Emma, compassion and altruism are coming into fashion at last. Thank you!

  9. I don't disagree; at the same time I'm not sure how to make sense of primates ripping one another to shreds for reasons not attributed at all to threat.

  10. This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing this valuable information!! I also recommend the documentary on netflix "I Am" which eloquently demonstrates how essential compassion is to our existence.

  11. this woman is oversimplifying things. For some people mirror neurons doesn't really do that great job in the social world. I could even mention certain psychological diagnoses…

  12. Thank you so much, Emma Seppala. Your work is truly needed. I really appreciate your vision for creating safe environments for those who need healing, and your passion to strive toward a more positive human future. Keep shining!

  13. The part where you smile at someone and they don't smile back, but maybe they smile at the next person. Right on.

  14. Most people have an high idea of themselves, their looks, their intelligence, honesty, etc. So they expect to befriend people who are in fact "better" than themselves.

    So in reality, most want to befriend rich, beautiful, well known people ! That's the "science" of social connection.

    Then consider that more than 50% of people we consider as friends do NOT reciprocate !

  15. did someone dub the word "baboon"? lol it sounds different whenever she says it like at 9:54; I wonder why they did that

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