Thursday, March 12, 2009

Internet Socializing Increases Susceptibility to Disease?

People do need people, and not just words on a screen. Recent research has shown that there really is no substitute for face-to-face contact, and that trading real human experiences for interactions on Facebook, Twitter, and other “social” networks has the potential to increase our sense of isolation.

In a recent study titled “Well connected? The biological implications of ‘social networking,’” Dr. Aric Sigman, who is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, writes that feelings of isolation cause negative changes in the body, making it more vulnerable to a host of disorders, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia, cold and flu, inflammation, and several immunological illnesses.

Apparently a lack of human contact actually inhibits the activity of genes needed to make leukocytes, the disease-fighting cells in your blood. It is also linked to decreased levels of neuropeptide oxytocin, which is needed for cardiovascular health. Other research into the affect of isolation on humans has shown that it can lessen the effectiveness of “Natural Killer” cells needed to fight tumors. Fewer hugs, smiles, and pats on the back cause changes that, according to Sigman, “influence morbidity and mortality.”

In short, trading in your real friends for internet contacts could kill you.

Sigman found that more and more people have fewer close friends or family to lean on as a result of increased internet socializing, as well as more time spent in front of the TV. He added that, unfortunately, this hands-off way of experiencing the environment is being modeled by children—25% of British five-year-olds have their own laptop.

The study is available online at, and was published in Biologist, the journal of the British Institute of Biology. After you read it, you might just want to get together with a friend over dinner to discuss it, along with anything else you want to get off your chest. It’s good for you.

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