Social Distancing Is Wearying — For Humans, And Maybe Even For Fish


During this time of COVID-19 pandemic, some people claim to thoroughly enjoy the coronavirus-avoidance strategy of staying home and alone.

If that isn’t a universal feeling, that may be because, like all primates, humans are social animals. Group life sometimes has troubling costs — like conflict and even violence, just for starters. Even so, it has helped ensure the survival of the human species and that of many other primates, as well. Living in groups provides protection from predators (we can plot against them and gang up on them) and from starvation (we can share resources). Living socially eases the search for a mate. It allows us to learn from each other. It affords us the pleasure and comfort that we experience when a hormone rush results from a friendly or loving touch.

For reasons like these, primates seem to have an almost biological need to be among friends and family, at least occasionally. Indeed, that need was made evident in research conducted in 2018 and 2019 at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Forty people who sat in a windowless room alone for ten hours reported to researchers that they had felt a desperation for social contact. In strength and number, those reports were very much like the ones they’d given the same research team about hankerings for food after a ten-hour day of fasting. What’s more, in this group of forty people, brain images showed a similar “craving signal” after both the social and nutritional deprivation experiences.

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