It seems startling, but a California scientist has made an interesting discovery about how we connect with our social circles. It seems the brain can’t tell the difference between ‘real’ social interaction like kissing, hugging, talking to someone we love, or social interaction via social media. Apparently, Tweeting, Face-booking and other forms of social interaction conducted across cyberspace reduce stress hormones and increase oxytocin levels, something which is known as the ‘cuddle’ hormone.
Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University in California, decided to measure the levels of oxytocin in a journalist’s blood before and after he used Twitter for ten minutes to connect with his virtual social network. Not only did the journalist’s oxytocin levels go up to the same degree that a groom’s levels did just prior to getting married, but his stress hormones, such as cortisol, went down as well.
Adam L. Penenberg, the journalist who worked with Zak, said:
“In those 10 minutes between blood batches one and two, my oxytocin levels spiked 13.2%. That’s equivalent to the hormonal spike experienced by the groom at the wedding Zak attended. Meanwhile, stress hormones cortisol and ACTH went down 10.8% and 14.9%, respectively. Zak explains that the results are linked, that the release of oxytocin I experienced while tweeting reduced my stress hormones. If that’s the case, says Zak, social networking might reduce cardiovascular risks, like heart attack and stroke, associated with lack of social support. But there’s even more to our findings. ‘Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for,’ Zak says. ‘E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.'”
The findings came to similar conclusions as other studies which showcased that those with a larger network of friends often have better health and recover from illness quicker. Even if someone’s friends are far away, just having people who ‘care for you’ boosts health.
Oxytocin is such an important chemical marker for happiness, it soars during breast feeding and pregnancy. It is how human beings bond to their offspring. In fact, a report from the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that the more oxytocin that is present in a mother’s blood during pregnancy, the more likely she will be bonded to her child once it is born. This hormone is important for mental, as well as the behavioral, aspect of bonding. It’s no surprise that bonding with people across cities or even on the other side of the planet increase our overall well being and, of course, our immune system’s ability to heal the body. The bliss hormone really can heal your body, so ‘tweet’ away.
||Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.