From having a heart to heart with a friend to watching your favorite movie; we are driven by a desire to connect to something larger than ourselves. We seek out social connections to create a sense of belonging which results in feeling calm, secure, and happy. Still, it is not uncommon for some of us to prefer staying at home to watch a movie over social commitments. With social distancing becoming a norm world over in the wake of the pandemic, it is pertinent to ask whether we can derive fulfillment from non-traditional social connections.
Findings from new research conducted at the University at Buffalo suggest that non-traditional social strategies can effectively fulfill our social needs and improve wellbeing. Non-traditional strategies such as watching a movie; reading a book; spending time with a pet or listening to music, helped people feel just as connected and emotionally stable as people seeking physical interactions with friends and family.
The research is a first of its kind comparing the effectiveness of traditional and non-traditional social strategies. The researcher employed 173 participants who were questioned regarding their wellbeing and their social connections. The researchers coined the term “Social Fuel Tank” to measure the efficacy of the different social strategies.
The need to fill one’s social fuel tank is what motivates people to connect to others and seek approval by conforming to acceptable behaviors. The inability to gain a sense of connection with others leads to negative impacts on mental health such as depression, anxiety, and insecurity. The results of the study suggest that the strategy used for filling one’s social fuel tank is irrelevant and what is critical is that people satisfy their social needs by engaging traditional or non-traditional methods.
Shira Gabriel, Psychology Professor at UB’s College of Arts and Sciences commented: “We live in a society where people are questioned if they’re not in a romantic relationship, if they decide not to have children, or they don’t like attending parties. There are implicit messages that these people are doing something wrong. That can be detrimental to them. The message we want to give to people, and that our data suggest, is that that’s just not true.”
The scientists hope that through their research people acknowledge the value of non-traditional connections rather than dismissing them as inconsequential. Elaine Paravati, co-author of the paper says, “We have evidence that as long as you feel like you’re fulfilling your belongingness needs, it doesn’t matter how you’re doing it”.