Podcast 003: Social Connection as a Human Need

Show Notes

Today I provided an overview of one of the four dimensions of your life that is a major determinant of your ability to feel the highest levels of fulfillment as a human being: the social one. I realized too late that I misspoke in the podcast: I don't have a transcript for you. However, I do have some links that you may find interesting.

I discussed one of my heroes in psychology, Harry Harlow. What's neat is that we also have film footage of some of his experiments concerning the impact of social isolation on rhesus monkeys which you can find in the link below. Be forewarned: these are, to me, intellectually fascinating videos, but they are not uplifting. They aren't graphic, but they depict very sad and scared baby monkeys.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the talk, though, we did glean some very important insights from his work, so at least their suffering was not in vain. Harlow justified his work thusly: " “If my work will save one million human children, I can’t get overly concerned about ten monkeys.”

The video in this article depicts some of his work that I didn't cover in the podcast, exploring the importance of social support to emotional well-being. These experiments went beyond just isolating monkeys and seeing what happened.

He raised baby monkeys in one of two situations. One was a wire "surrogate" mother that was paired with food but, being made of wire, bore no resemblance to a real mother and hence, presumably offered no emotional comfort. The other was a wire mother covered in fuzzy cloth—much more like a real mother—but offering no food. The babies preferred the cloth mothers even though it meant going hungry, highlighting the strength of their need for contact with others. (Harlow actually considered this to be evidence that love exists, and could be studied in a laboratory.)

He demonstrates the power of this need in a couple of ways. First, by scaring the babies and seeing which mother they return to for support. Then, toward the end of this video, Harlow demonstrates the soothing effect of having a cloth mother around: it enabled a scared baby to calm down and feel secure and confident enough to explore his surroundings. That's exactly what good support—that extra level of support that derives from close connection with others, beyond just mere proximity to them—does for us, too!

Clicking this link will take you to a list of social health-related articles on the blog. In the podcast, I mention the two-part series I wrote recently regarding how to cope with "toxic people." You can follow that link to Part One.