23 April 2011

Heart to heart, for better or worse

A couple of days ago my brother referred me to a British Psychological Society Research Digest blog post, which in turn sent me to the full paper. The essence is that very low level social connectedness cues between individuals, such as being told of a shared interest, trigger physical empathy. (I ripped off the connected hearts image here from the BPS post.)

At one level, it shouldn't be a surprise. We've all experienced the feeling of loyalty to someone recently met in the face of conflict with a stranger. I once had a neighbour whom I disliked, and who went out of her way to be unpleasant to me, but to whose aid I unquestioningly went when I saw her being harassed by a third party. Every group, however temporary, exhibits ésprit de corps. And yet ... it's set me thinking since.

On the one hand, it seems hopeful that we so readily make connection with another. In a world where conflicts with the other are so devastating, the more readily connectedness with the other can happen the better. On the other hand, in a world where tribalism, factionalism, schismatic conflict are based on gut level "me and mine" alliances (and prominent figures associated with a Scottish football club identified with religious sectarianism has just received letter bombs), perhaps it's worrying that they can cohere around such tangential associations.

As so often in life, both are probably true ... a binary Manicheism that just has to be lived with.

Fascinating, though.

  • David Cwir, et al., Your heart makes my heart move: cues of social connectedness cause shared emotions and physiological states among strangers. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2011. 47(3): p. 661-664. Abstract available here [ prepublication manuscript available here at time of writing]

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