I just read an interesting article in the New York Times that discussed the impact of Media on our health and happiness. The article stated that although instant electronic access provides tremendous convenience, there is a downside. There is soon to be published research in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggesting that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people. There is increasing evidence that all experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways and any habit will mold the structure of our brain so that we continue to exhibit that habit. In addition, our styles of social connection leave their own physical imprint on us.

Therefore, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people both in their physical and mental health. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” When we don’t regularly exercise our ability to connect with people on a face-to-face basis, we will find ourselves lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

New research on the social expression of genes shows that our personal histories of social connection or aloneness, for instance, have altered how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. Parents should therefore be concerned about how their own actions — like texting or talking on the phone while supposedly being with their child, creates an impression on their children’s gene expression and limits their capacity to connect to others. Instead, when we play with our children, laugh with them or have a talk with them face to face, a different synchrony between parent and child occurs and the two come to mirror each other. It’s mini moments like these, in which good feeling envelopes both brains and bodies at once, that build our capacity to empathize and connect. This effect also occurs to our health and well being in general.

So, it is important for parents and lovers to limit their use of their smart phones, Internet, and other devices, and spend more time talking and having fun with those you love. You’ll build up both of your health and empathic skills and feel more enriched in the process. These devices are addicting as well as helpful in many ways, but they tend to deaden our capacity for growth.

Barbara Feld, LCSW

PARC Founding Partner

Got thoughts or opinions on this topic? A helpful anecdote you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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