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Psychology of Social Connection

Entries from November 2020

I had a funny title in mind, but I lost it

November 21st, 2020 · 14 Comments

Loss by Patrick Adolphus

It was no surprise last year when Post Malone’s single “Goodbyes” hit #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Besides the satisfying melody and those coveted vocals, the relatable lyrics of the song spoke to a lot of us. As a matter of fact, there is a long history of such songs like *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” and Clay Walker’s “Like We Never Said Goodbye” reaching commercial success, disproportionate success. After all, break ups are not all that common of an occurrence relative to all of the other things going on in our lives, so why is it that they are so well represented in pop culture? If you think about it, more relationships are formed than ended since people need to start them in order for them to end in the first place. Not to mention, not all relationships end (until death does us part), so why are there not as many songs about finding yourself in a new relationship? Why are we so preoccupied with the loss of relationships?

The answer may lie in a couple of biases we have. If I offered you a wager in which you could win $100 or lose $100, you probably would not take me up on it. This is because people are loss aversive, i.e. “losses loom larger than gains.” In objective terms, you are either winning or losing the same amount, but subjectively there is more pain associated with losing than pleasure associated with winning (Brenner, et al, 2007). This could translate to a few things. First of all, you could win something or lose something, but losing is way worse, so that may be why song writers are more apt to write songs about losing a relationship than gaining one since it is the more emotionally salient event. Second of all, this may be part of the reason why most people do not want to risk losing their relationship in pursuit of another and focus on holding on instead of forgetting the old and chasing the new.

Now, imagine I gave you either a chocolate bar or a mug, but then I offered to trade items with you. Chances are you would not accept the deal. If we held no bias with respect to the items, we would expect a 50% chance of this happening, but, in reality, the odds are actually 9 to 1. This could be chocked up to what is known as the “endowment effect.” There is not much inherently better about either item. You just happen to already possess one. People prefer to hold on to what they already have (Brenner, et al, 2007), which makes it ever more painful when they have to give it up. If you have a relationship, more likely than not, you want to hold on to it, so when it is taken away from you, the loss is going to hurt. The reason might be as simple as the relationship being the status quo.

Obviously, we are emotional social creatures even though the economists among us may not want to admit it, but the first step to solving a problem is understanding the problem and the emotions that come with it, so it is important to keep these biases in mind when facing the loss of a relationship. It is important to determine whether a relationship is actually worth pursuing. We get caught in emotional storms where the winds may sound like a resounding “YES!!”, but the honest answer is often “no, I am falling prey to my biases.” Unfortunately, the more involved your relationship was, the harder it will be to weather this storm. There is a positive correlation between distress and how much of your self-concept is defined by the relationship (Smith & Cohen, 1993).

When you recognize that the loss of a particular relationship is not necessarily as bad as it feels or maybe even a good thing, you can work on coping with the loss instead of clenching so hard. If you find yourself reeling from a breakup, you should consider keeping a journal or diary to express how you are feeling about the separation. One study recruited undergrads who had recently experienced a breakup in which the experimental group was tasked with writing expressively about their breakup, whereas the control group was tasked with writing about an impersonal topic in a non-emotional manner. The control group was found to not only have higher levels of depressive symptoms like fatigue and tension, but also symptoms of upper respiratory illness (suggesting how important social connections are for our physical wellbeing!). Such symptoms were not found in the experimental group and they also reported lower levels of intrusive thoughts and avoidance (Lepore & Greenberg, 2002).

For all those hopeless romantics out there not ready to give up and willing to fight until the very end, rest assured that this is also the best way forward for you. The experimental group had a higher likelihood of reuniting with their exes (Lepore & Greenberg, 2002).

This tried and trusted method also reaches far beyond the confines of romantic relationships. Keeping a diary/journal can help deal with all sorts of traumas ranging from the death of a classmate (Margola, et al, 2010) to the loss of a job (Spera, Buherfeind, & Pennebaker, 1994). Marcus Aurelius endorsed it two thousand years ago when he wrote his Meditations and I endorse it now when you decide to write your very own meditations!



Brenner, L., Rottenstreich, Y., Sood, S., & Bilgin, B. (2007). On the psychology of loss aversion: Possession, valence, and reversals of the endowment effect. Journal of Consumer Research34(3), 369-376.

Lepore, S. J., & Greenberg, M. A. (2002). Mending broken hearts: Effects of expressive writing on mood, cognitive processing, social adjustment and health following a relationship breakup. Psychology and Health17(5), 547-560.

Margola, D., Facchin, F., Molgora, S., & Revenson, T. A. (2010). Cognitive and emotional processing through writing among adolescents who experienced the death of a classmate. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy2(3), 250.

Smith, H. S., & Cohen, L. H. (1993). Self-complexity and reactions to a relationship breakup. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology12(4), 367-384.

Spera, S. P., Buhrfeind, E. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of management journal37(3), 722-733.

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Dear QuarantineCrew

November 20th, 2020 · 11 Comments

This week on HeretoHelp we will be discussing all things ~quarantine~ so send us any questions or comments about your quarantine experiences, the bad or the good!

 We’re here to help ?



Dear QuarantineCrew,

I’m a 20-year-old college student, struggling to live at home with sole exposure to my family and the occasional elderly neighbor. I’ve tried texting, facetiming and having Zoom happy hours with friends, but conversation always feels forced and no one wants more time on Zoom outside of what’s required for school or work. All I want is just to BE with my friends and not have to PLAN when we’re going to talk next. It’s so hard!! Is this normal? How can I make these Zoom interactions more fulfilling?

Sincerely, Feeling Zoom-ed Out


Dear Zoom-ed Out,

Ooooh how I feel you. Quarantine certainly has not made it easy on us as we try to maintain our friendships. Though technology is our means to stay connected with people who are physically distant from us, virtual social interactions are more distancing than in-person interactions (Waytz & Gray, 2018). Waytz and Gray (2018) conducted a literature review on the interaction between online technologies and empathy, emotional intelligence, perspective taking, and emotion recognition. They discuss a longitudinal study that investigated the relationship between online technology and sociality in Dutch adolescents through self-report measures (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016). They found that social media use and online communication can in fact boost empathic processes (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016) – but only if it is used to supplement already existing off-line communication (Waytz & Gray, 2018). As we’ve come to realize, online communication cannot be used as a solid substitute for face-to-face interaction (Waytz & Gray, 2018). Though this sounds bleak, don’t fret, Zoom-ed Out! There are ways to enhance online communication and make it more meaningful. In addition to the weekly breakfast/happy hour Zoom dates with friends, one thing I started at the beginning of Quarantine was weekly Zoom yoga classes with friends. Every Sunday, I schedule an hour block with two of my friends to do a CorePower online class. All it takes is for someone to share her screen and we do the class together, and then re-hash everything that happened to us during the week. I find that doing something active together makes it something fun to look forward to, and since yoga is “exercise” it makes it easier to block out that hour on the schedule, even if half of it is spent catching up. If it’s a hard yoga class one day, we’ll all be struggling on screen together and then commiserating about it afterward – enduring this hardship together serves as a good ice breaker so the conversation doesn’t feel forced. It’s fun to crack jokes and laugh through the poses that we’re all bad at, so it feels like I have a friend by my side, toughing it out with me. However, I get it if you’d rather not practice your downward dogs weekly. In that case, my suggestion for you is to schedule some sort of weekly activity with your friends so that even if it’s over Zoom, you’re not spending the entire time watching the screen. You could try cooking, baking, or making cocktails together – the world is your oyster! Anything goes in this day and age – as long as it’s virtual!! Hopefully the days of Quarantine are becoming more limited, but in the meantime, try being active on Zoom and see how that helps 🙂

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Dear QuarantineCrew,

Being stuck in quarantine has caused my anxiety levels to reach record-breaking highs. I have my ups and downs, but I cannot seem to manage it – I feel as if I have no control and not knowing what could happen in the future just makes it worse. Any advice on dealing with this feeling?  Especially since we have no idea what is still to come.

Sincerely, Get Me Off This Roller Coaster


Dear Roller Coaster,

I don’t know anyone right now that has not felt this. I think it’s safe to say we have all had at least one moment where we have not felt in control and like everything was not okay. Any sort of plans you make always seem to be thrown out the window and, to make things worse, we are restricted to our homes.

Berinato (2020) discussed that this anxiety and feeling of uncertainty is a form of grief known as anticipatory grief. This means, as you mention, that there is this feeling that just washes over us when we are uncertain about what the future holds.

But, thankfully there are some things that you can do to calm and manage these feelings. Your goal, which can be easier said than done, is to find a balance between your thoughts that cause that feeling (Berinato, 2020). Instead of letting our minds spin out of control, we need to learn to let go of what we cannot control and live in the present moment (Berinato, 2020). So, instead of stressing about what the other person in the shop is doing and if they have COVID – focus on what you can control. Keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.

We need to learn to accept that there are many things during this quarantine period that we do not have control over and in doing so we can find some control through acceptance (Berinato, 2020). We need to learn to feel such feelings, accept them and understand that it is okay to feel this way as we are the first to experience quarantine and COVID.

We could also see this quarantine period as an opportunity to show a little more empathy towards each other. We need to understand that we are not the only ones feeling this overwhelming anxiety and grief. One way to do this ~safely~ is by using social media. We all know it can be a platform for negativity, but it is also one for positivity. Waytz & Gray, (2018) paper found that social media can be used to show prosocial behaviors and can enhance our social interactions by allowing us to form deep interpersonal connections. We can use social media to safely build empathy for one another. So, when you are online, purposefully reach out to someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while. Let them know you support them and here to chat. Another helpful resource is The war against kindness. This resource will teach you how to “build your own empathy gym” and has 5 challenges that allow you to practice showing kindness and empathy. Challenge 4 specifically speaks to using social media, but I would challenge you to try them all out.

Hopefully, this advice was helpful to you. Please let us know how these challenges go if you choose to try them out. Take back control and be present in the moment.

Sending virtual hugs and support

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Dear QuarantineCrew,

I used to have my childhood friends, until last year, when we each moved to different cities for either school or work. And since then, we’ve just grown out of touch. Personally, I moved by myself across the country to Maine for school. I’m a pretty introverted person, so it takes me a while to make new friends. At school, there were a couple people who I said hi to and chatted with as we bumped into each other in the hallways or in the dining hall. I was happy and thought I was starting to build deeper friendships. Then COVID forced me to go back home and the people I sort of knew have stopped calling. I’m just struggling and feeling really lonely, it feels like I’m all by myself without any friends (even though I interact with my family and classmates on a daily basis).

Sincerely, Socially Distant Beyond Six Feet


Dear Socially Distant,

Feeling like you’re alone and without a support system is really difficult. It’s difficult under normal circumstances, but understandably even more so now, when there are so many new stressors and fewer opportunities to find friends. Moreover, it makes sense that you feel lonely despite being around people at home. In fact, the quantity of social interactions or the number of people in your network may not correlate with how lonely you feel. Only you can judge how lonely you are. Though it’s difficult emotionally, the effects of loneliness are deeper than that. Loneliness affects our physical health and our quality of life in every way. It can even change your gene expression! In particular, genes involved in suppressing inflammatory chronic diseases may be underexpressed (have a smaller effect), and genes that increase inflammation may be overexpressed (have a larger effect) (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009). So, first of all, acknowledge that things are difficult, it’s normal, and it makes scientific sense. Loneliness affects much more than your mood.

While you may be longing for deep interactions with close friends to not feel lonely, Sandstrom and Dunn (2014) found that interacting with many, more shallow acquaintances, termed “weak ties”, is also really important to boosting your well-being. So, try starting up a conversation with people in your classes even if you don’t consider them a close friend or not. Those weak-tie conversations will make you feel good!

Another strategy you can try is being nostalgic. Nostalgia is something our brain uses to cope with loneliness. Zhou et al. (2008) found that nostalgia can increase perceived levels of social support and strengthen mental health. So, look through your old photos or have your grade school lunch again. If being nostalgic isn’t for you, that’s ok too. I know that, personally, sometimes nostalgia can make me more sad for what has been lost. If you’ve felt that way, I’ve found that reminiscing about the past can help remind me that I’ve gotten through challenges before, and that I can get through them again. In this case, reminiscing about the past can help me realize that I’ve gotten through stressful times before and I’ve also made friends in new places before. So, what’s different now? Nothing 🙂 

Finally, consider reaching out to past friends. Personally, what prevents me from talking to old connections is that I feel bad that I haven’t texted them in years. But, just because you may not have talked to them in years doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to hear from you. So, send them a quick “Hi! How are you?” text and see where it takes you! 

I’m sorry there isn’t a silver lining here; I wish there was. There will be an end to this pandemic. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and do what you need to do. We believe in your strength and resilience.

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Berinato, S. (2020, March 23). That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. Harvard Business Review. 

Cacioppo J.T. & Hawkley L.C. (2009). Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 447–454.

Cat Lazy GIF – Tenor GIF Keyboard – Bring Personality To Your Conversations | Say more with Tenor. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Challenges—Overview. (n.d.). The War For Kindness. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from

Free Classes – CorePower Yoga On Demand. (2020). Retrieved 17 November 2020, from

Paper Throwing Sheldon GIF – ThrowingPapers ImDone Nope—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Positivity GIF – ZooeyDeschanel NewGirl WeveGotThis—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from

Quarantine Got Me Like Bored GIF – QuarantineGotMeLike Bored HappyMonday—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Quarantine Isolation GIF – Quarantine Isolation Jamming—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: The surprising power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910-922.

Season 3 Ashley | GIF by Bachelor in Paradise – Find & Share on GIPHY (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Sheldon Tbbt GIF – Sheldon Tbbt PaperBag—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

This Is Fine Anxiety GIF – ThisIsFine Anxiety Calm—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Toy Story Dinosaur GIF – ToyStory Dinosaur Uncertainty—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Vossen, H.G.M, & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 118-124.

Walter White Breaking Bad GIF – WalterWhite BreakingBad Chemist—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Waytz, A., & Gray, K. (2018). Does online technology make us more or less sociable? A preliminary review and call for research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(4), 473-491.

Yoga Lesson Fail GIF – Tenor GIF Keyboard – Bring Personality To Your Conversations | Say more with Tenor. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., & Gao, D. G. (2008). Counteracting loneliness: On the restorative function of nostalgia. Psychological Science, 19(10), 1023-1029.

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