Science Of Social Bonding In Family, Friendship & Romantic Love


Key Takeaways

  • We have specific brain circuitry for bonding that are repurposed for the types of relationship whether it’s mother-child, friendship, romantic partnership, etc.

  • The strength and stability of our adult bonds are rooted in the health of our caregiver-child bond (but this bond is neuroplastic and can change with experience)

  • Dopamine causes us to maintain social homeostasis and seek out connection (via phone, hang out, etc.) if we are not at our optimal level

  • Introverts release more dopamine in social interactions so need less of them, while extroverts release less dopamine in social interactions and need more of them to feel filled up

  • Think about people based on how much interaction they need to feel balanced, not how chatty or quiet they are

  • Homeostatic drives aren’t siloed: there’s common biology of circuitry that underlies things that maintain us (e.g., hunger, connection, social interaction, water, etc.)

  • Themes and traditions anchor our psychology and allow us to synchronize our physiology and act as a bridge to establish social bonds

  • The right brain handles more autonomic forms of bonding (e.g., heart rate, pupil size) versus the left brain which is responsible for more conscious forms of bonding (e.g., reading to your child)

  • Oxytocin is the “hormonal glue”, involved in everything from childbirth, orgasm, honesty, social recognition, and key to all things that lead to bonding

  • Part of why breakups (whether in friendship or romantically) are so painful is because they involve a dissolution of emotional and cognitive empathy that was built up

Social Bonding & Isolation

  • The bonds we make later in life are rooted in the bond we parent-caregiver formed, but there is plasticity in the system we can rewire based on experiences

  • We have one circuit for all types of social bonds

  • Social isolation: when animals or humans are restricted from having the types of interactions they would prefer to have

  • When people are socially isolated they tend to crave dopamine release and may seek it from food since they are not getting it from social interaction

  • Hallmark features of social isolation are elevated adrenaline, cortisol, tachykinin – all of which can cause aggression and irritability

  • Social isolation deteriorates the brain and body quickly depending on how introverted or extroverted you are

  • Like hunger, temperature, and thirst, we have brain circuits responsible for “social homeostasis” which drives us to maintain a certain level of connection

  • The more time you spend alone, the more you are motivated to seek pictures of faces, interaction with others, conversation, etc.

  • Social bonding is plastic and fluid to adjust to your role as you move from one social hierarchy to the next (e.g., sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow)

Brain Areas For Bonding

  • Amygdala is important to maintain healthy bonds and move away from unhealthy bonds

  • The hypothalamus contains neurons that access the hormone system to release oxytocin

  • The dorsal raphe nucleus is rich with dopamine and responsible for mediating social homeostasis which makes you crave social interaction if you are lacking the right level for you

  • Loneliness is not just being alone, it’s the discrepancy between desired and actual levels of interaction

  • We are all social animals to one extent or another but our desired levels of interactions vary

  • The prefrontal cortex gives you subjectivity and flexibility over social interactions – for example, deciding to leave a party when someone you don’t like arrives

  • Prosocial craving: we are used to a certain level of interaction and will move towards it and seek it out if we are not getting what we need (driven by dopamine)

  • If we are chronically socially isolated, we will become anti-social and more introverted

Introversions Versus Extroversion

  • Many people who appear introverted are actually extroverted but don’t talk much

  • Definition of an introvert: motivated or satisfied by low levels of social interaction

  • Definition of an extrovert: someone who gets energy or lift from social interaction

  • We can’t predict whether someone is an introvert or extrovert based on behavior

  • If you think of an introvert, you get a lot of dopamine out of a few interactions; if you are an extrovert, you get less dopamine and need more of those interactions to keep you satisfied

  • Think about people based on how much interaction they need to feel balanced, not how chatty or quiet they are

Circuits That Underlie Autonomic Bonding

  • Early mother-infant attachments involve coordination of right brain and left brain circuits

  • All needs of an infant are met by a primary caretaker

  • Two parallel circuits established early in infancy are responsible for setting up bonds

  • The right brain handles more autonomic forms of bonding (e.g., heart rate, pupil size) versus the left brain which is responsible for more conscious forms of bonding (e.g., reading to your child)

  • A mother and infant’s right brain system (coordination of breathing, pupil size, temperature) is coordinated and directly linked to oxytocin

  • The left-brain system gets prediction and reward from more conscious things such as reading to your child at night

  • Attachment is both rational and emotional

  • Empathy: there is emotional empathy (feeling what someone else is feeling) and cognitive empathy (seeing and experiencing something the same way)

  • A trusting social bond in romantic relationships and friendships requires both emotional and cognitive empathy

Oxytocin

  • Oxytocin is released in the brain and binds to receptors throughout the body and is involved in social recognition, orgasm, bonding, honesty, lactation, and letdown of milk, and much more

  • Interactions that release oxytocin at high levels: contact between individuals that feel closely related & interactions between individuals that have high trust

  • MDMA releases huge levels of oxytocin and is part of the reason people feel the depth of connection

How To Increase Quality Of Bonds

  • Within small groups, physiologic reflexes become synchronized

  • The body and brain are reciprocally connected

  • It’s not just interaction that creates bonding, it’s shared experience

  • Themes and traditions anchor our psychology and allow us to synchronize our physiology and act as a bridge to establish social bonds

  • Synchronize bodily and cognitive states

  • Identify the routes by which social bonds are created and lean in or pull away from bonds that serve you


 

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