It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Social connections—friends, family, neighbors or colleagues—improve our odds of survival by 50 percent. Here is how low social interaction compares to more well-known risk factors: Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, equivalent to being an alcoholic, more harmful than not exercising, twice as harmful as obesity.” (“Relationships Improve Your Odds of Survival by 50 Percent, Research Finds” Science Daily, 7/28/2010)
I’ve been discussing the health benefits of friendship on this blog for some time now, but to see the impact of social connections quantified so specifically is kind of shocking. Low social interaction is the same as smoking 3/4 of a pack a day? And of being an alcoholic?? That’s some serious business.
This latest report analyzed data from 148 studies of human interaction and health—which involved more than 300,000 people worldwide. Basically it’s the mother of all health-and-friendship research.
After reading it I had a few thoughts. 1) Since I’ll be doing some good social interacting tonight, does that mean I can skip the gym this afternoon? Verdict: Probably not. 2) What qualifies as low social interaction? It’s a very cryptic phrase, don’t you think? Do you need a specific number of friends? Plans at least three times a week? I like tangibles, researchers. You can’t drop a bomb like I could be the equivalent of a chain-smoking alchy and dead before my 40th birthday and not tell me how exactly to avoid such fate. (What, me? Melodramatic? Never.)
These days I would qualify my social interaction as quite high. Though I still don’t have that “let’s sit around and watch The Soup and laugh at nothing and everything” other half locally, I’ve made a good number of new Windy City friends. My calendar is healthily full of playdates. But just because I say I have high social interaction doesn’t mean researchers would. Who knows? So many studies about friendship talk about people with “minimal social networks” or “low social integration” and then don’t elaborate on who qualifies for said label. At least if you’re smoking 15 cigs a day, you know it.
When I launched this project I was all, “Me want more friends nearby! Someone to watch The Biggest Loser with—someone who loves Bob like I do!” It wasn’t about anything as profound as increasing my chances of survival. I just needed a partner in crime to invite over for a glass of Pinot Grigio on a lazy Friday night. But maybe that’s survival of the fittest right there. If loneliness is a protective reflex a la pain, maybe my bizarrely strong desire to track down a Chitown local to honor with the other half of my BFF pendant (come on, you totally remember these) was some sort of deep-seeded biological urge.
Nah. I think it was about The Soup.
What do you think about the new study? Do those comparisons surprise you? And what do you think qualifies as low social intergration? Hypotheses encouraged…