The Power & Science of Social Connection: Emma Seppälä TEDx

I'd like to start with a question for you so just think about how many people in your life you feel close enough to to share a personal problem with so 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 what they found was that the mean number of clothes others that people have that they feel close enough to share a personal problem with is to and the mode which is the greatest number of people said zero that was over twenty five percent of Americans say zero that's one in four people that you meet every day does not feel that connection so what I'm going to share with you today is the science behind social connection and the secret to how we can improve that in our lives so I'll talk about what happens when there is no social connection or low social connection in our lives so well that 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 violent 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 worse for us than smoking then obesity and then high blood pressure so 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're wired for connection connection is something that's intrinsically natural to us so thanks to mirror neurons in our brain we constantly resonate with other people and what we mean by resonate is that we are constantly mirror what's going on with others so think about someone close to you when they walk in the room even before you've exchanged any words you can tell are they doing well is it something that something wonderful happened in their life or did something tragic happen what are 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 it activates the micro muscles in our face or frowning and we know that something's not right same thing with smiling muscles just think about when you see someone walking down the street and tripping and falling we immediately feel and an impulse – oh that must have hurt we 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 hurts so there's this overlap between our own pain and seeing someone else's pain so sometimes we think that were these isolated individuals walking around not connected to others but it's just not true even the way our brain is wired 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 a and you might have noticed that when you walk down the hall and you smile at someone and they don't smile back and you feel oh you kind of feel like oh man but every time that happens I think that's okay 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 so what connection brings all these benefits and lack thereof is a problem and we also know that there is an increase in loneliness happening in the United States so the facts I shared with you at the beginning were for 2004 but earlier 1985 there was a greater social network so there's a decline happening people are living farther and farther 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 oh 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 you know 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 of nothing to do with the number of friends you have actually so you might have heard of the expression loneliness in a crowd you could have a thousand friends but if you don't feel connected on the inside you get none of the benefits in this and the beauty about this is that the benefits are tied to your 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 always change how successful we are how attractive we are but one thing we do have a say over is our internal state our subjective state so and what is that what is it 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 so some people think oh compassion I'm not a compassionate person or they think well we're innately selfish people everyone's you know selves self-interested that's a belief but what is the data say the data says that compassion is innate it's a fur instinct and we see this not only in human beings but in animal kingdom so let's take rats for example rats are animals that in general we don't have an X you know 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 so in order to examine whether Compassion's 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 needs to he's dropped something and is desperately trying to reach for it two year-olds will just get up and walk over there and help even after the experimenter has put all sorts of obstacles a lot cross the room and that the babies have to crawl over and under to get to and hope it's this a natural tendency so what happens to adults it's the same in adults so a recent study with economics in an economics game paradigm in which participants were given a certain amount of money and were could either act fairly so they they could share that money with the other participants or they could keep it for themselves and hoard it when they were given only a few seconds to think about it the first reaction response was to share then if they're given a few more minutes to think about it you know they might change their mind but that first instinct is to share and Dale Miller at Stanford University's also shown that people's first instinct is to share for adults but sometimes they stop themselves why because they think other people might think that they're self-interested because there's this norm out there that we're all self-interested but that first instinct is actually to share and this is it and this has been true this has been true for millennia so oftentimes we attribute survival of the fittest as something that 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 Dekker Keltner from UC berkeley has pointed out Darwin's message could better be translated as survival of the kindest because compassion is what has helped us survive over time and Robert Sapolsky at Stanford Medical School has shown some really interesting experiments about that he observed baboons in um in Africa and he saw that you know who are 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're with the ladies they reproduce more and actually in in one situation that was the alpha males had hogged all this food that was in a human waste dump and the food was infected so all of a sudden the alpha males started dying off who was left was the really cooperative nice guy mouth and in fact that tribe of baboons thrived much more in this much more cooperative atmosphere and actually the same is true of 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 has been incredibly it is incredibly natural and innate to us actually and the other thing so in compassion brings that sense of social connection to focus on other and the other thing that increases compassion is self compassion interestingly so we often think of you know we have to achieve and we have to be self-critical and push ourselves but it's been shown that when you do that it actually is 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 you're better able to succeed so people think oh compassion it's this touchy-feely term soft actually it's a source of enormous strength much much more than then we actually imagine so I want to share a story with you I similar lecture at Stanford some students and one of the students emailed me a couple 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 was had a dark cloud over her over her head and always glared at everyone didn't talk to anyone and so the student was aware that this person was very socially isolated so she decided I'm going to smile at this person every time I see her worst case scenario I activate her micro muscles right so this is what she did and she did that for several weeks and every time she smiled that woman glared at her and 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 are happier when we give than when we receive if you ask people to get spend money on themselves around someone else they're happier at the end of the day if they spent money on others just think about it this is not the messages we're getting from all of our marketing gurus out there who are telling us to buy things in order to be happy it's actually in giving and this has been shown in brain imaging studies as well so the the most beautiful fact about compassion is that it's incredibly contagious so when you think about a time that you've seen someone helps someone else you might have been a parent with a child or you see someone helping someone across the street and just think about the feeling it generates within you it's going to go warm and fuzzy feeling sometimes we can be moved to tears this is something we that Jonathan hight at University of Virginia's called elevation the state of elevation so 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 are person in your life your wife's brothers neighbor is also going to be more compassionate interestingly the same is true with happiness so we often think oh why should I take care of my happiness it's not a you know maybe a self-centered no when you're happy it's the same thing and that's how we create culture and compassion and leads to happiness so 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's how you create culture you can definitely create a culture of compassion and that I believe is an idea worth spreading don't you

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

  2. 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 !

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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…

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  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. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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”.

  12. 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! 

  13. 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. 🙂

  14.  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.

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