What you need to know about Social Connectedness
What you need to know about Social Connectedness

What you need to know about Social Connectedness

We all have that drive to feel connected, to love and be loved, and we shudder at the thought of loneliness. No one wants to be alone, right? In this article, which is mostly based on the work in my doctoral thesis,  I will explain the concept of social connectedness, discuss the benefits of strong social connectivity, and discuss the negative implications of having little or no social connectedness. 

What is Social Connectedness?

Social connectedness is conceptualized as a sense of “belongingness and relatedness between people (Van Bel et al., 2009, p. 1)." Van Bel, IJsselsteijn and de Kort (2008) discuss the importance of understanding the temporal aspects of belongingness, which can be experienced on two levels, i.e., the (i) ‘momentary’ or (ii) ‘continuous’ feeling of connectedness. However, Van Bel et al. (2008) gave precedence to the long-term experience, which is more distinctive in relatively stable interpersonal relationships. Whereas, the short-term experience of connectedness can be influenced by a person’s current emotion, their present assessment of their sense of belongingness, or their interactions with another individual. Other factors such as age, context, gender, personality traits, culture, individual preferences, and previous relationship experience can also affect how people experience social connectedness (Global Council on Brain Health, 2017).

Altogether, a sense of belonging appears to be embodied in the concept of social connectedness, such that an increase in social connectedness can lead to the positive feeling of having enough social contacts and support the personal assessment of being a valued member of a group. 

What does Social Connectedness include?

To determine a person’s social connectedness with others, Van Bel et al. (2009) suggest the following five dimensions:

  1. Relationship Salience – The continued sensation of presence and togetherness with another despite being in different locations.
  2. Contact quality – The subjective assessment of the quality of interaction with others in a person’s social network.
  3. Shared understanding – having common interests, ideologies, and perspectives with people in one’s social network.
  4. Knowing each others’ experiences – becoming emotionally aware of each other’s subjective feelings along with recognizing and understanding the counterpart’s experience and how they think.
  5. Feelings of closeness – examines the intensity of the attachment with one person against all other relationships. Also, assesses the quality of communication and emphasizes confidentiality and openness in relationships.

Why is Social Connectedness Important? 

According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love and a sense of belonging are vital for human functioning, which transcends to the primal need for intimacy, family, and friendship (Maslow, 1954). In Maslow’s hierarchy, once physiological and safety needs are met then a person can strive to satisfy the need for love and belonging, which is essential to fulfilling esteem needs and if possible attain a state of self-actualization. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs adapted from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Therefore, sociality is crucial for well-being, as human beings are naturally driven by an inherent desire to belong and maintain strong and lasting bonds (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Accordingly, this need is satisfied through regular and positive interactions with long-term social contacts (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, forced lockdowns and geographical distance between family members have become significant barriers to face-to-face communication. Essentially, while living apart, it is crucial to stay connected and keep abreast of each others’ lives. The proliferation of computer-mediated technologies such as instant messaging (e.g., WhatsApp), free or relatively cheap Voice over IP calls (e.g., Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime), and email can augment communication.

What are the Benefits of Social Connectedness?

Dr. Emma Seppala, from The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, at Standford Medicine, identified the following benefits of strong social connectedness.

  1. A reduced rate of anxiety or depression.
  2. A boost in self-esteem and empathy.
  3. Better physical health, mental, and emotional well-being.
  4. Improved emotion regulation skills.
  5. A  50% increased chance of longevity.
  6. Strengthens the immune system as suggested by UCLA researcher, Steve Cole, Ph.D.

What Happens when you have No Social Interaction?

  1. You may feel socially isolated, which according to Shahtahmasebi and Scott (1996), is the objective state of infrequent or the nonexistence of communication with others. It is identifiable by a wide range of indicators, namely;

               – living alone,

               – having little or no social participation,

               – perceived lack of social support,

               – and feelings of loneliness.

      2.  You become lonely i.e., the subjective state of repugnant emotions affiliated with social isolation, limited contact than desired, and the deprivation of companionship (Shahtahmasebi and Scott, 1996).

     The Dangers of Loneliness and Social Isolation

Being lonely or socially isolated could pose negative effects on one’s health and mental well-being. Here are a few negative effects discussed by Dr. Seppala.

  1. Slower recovery from illnesses.
  2. An increase in anti-social behaviour or even becoming violent.
  3. A greater chance of experiencing depression or anxiety attacks.
  4. Being at risk for suicide.

      Feeling Low?

Sometimes you may be in contact with a myriad of people but unfortunately, you still feel lonely. Or you might be feeling alienated simply because you are alone. Friend, there is hope and you don’t have to struggle alone. I urged you to seek help by talking to someone you trust or going to your nearest health provider. You will get better, just take the necessary steps to recovery one day at a time.

 

References 

  1. Baumeister, R. F. & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497.
  2. Global Council on Brain Health. (2017). The brain and social connectedness: Gcbh recommendations on social engagement and brain health (Tech. Rep.). AARP Policy, Research and International Affairs; AARP Integrated Communications and Marketing; and Age UK.
  3. Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper.
  4. Shahtahmasebi, S. & Scott, A. (1996). Social isolation and loneliness in old age: Review and model refinement. Ageing and Society, 6, 333–358.
  5. Van Bel, D. T., IJsselsteijn, W. A. & de Kort, Y. A. (2008). Interpersonal connectedness: Conceptualization and directions for a measurement instrument. In Chi ’08 extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems (pp. 3129–3134). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
  6. Van Bel, D. T., Smolders, K., IJsselsteijn, W. A. & de Kort, Y. (2009). Social connectedness: concept and measurement. Intelligent Environments, 2, 67–74.
Published By
Kadian Davis-Owusu (PhD)
Kadian has a background in Computer Science and pursued her PhD and post-doctoral studies in the fields of Design for Social Interaction and Design for Health. She has taught a number of interaction design courses at the university level including the University of the West Indies, the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) in Jamaica, and the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Kadian also serves as the Founder and Lead UX Designer for TeachSomebody and is the host of the ExpertsConnect video podcast. In this function, Kadian serves to bridge the learning gap by delivering high-quality content tailored to meet your learning needs. Moreover, through expert-collaboration, top-quality experts are equipped with a unique channel to create public awareness and establish thought leadership in their related domains. Tune in for weekly episodes of this podcast!... Show more
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