Being With Friends Saves Us: It Generates Endorphins, Which Are The Best Antidepressant Medication

(MENAFN- Costa Rica News) --a-

“Whoever has friends has a treasure”, say some. For Robin Dunbar, it is also a kind of vaccine for our immune system ; having friends and quality ensures a healthier life.

Dunbar (United Kingdom, 1947) is an anthropologist, psychologist and evolutionary biologist. He specialized in primate behavior but, as he himself recounts in his latest book “Friends: The Power of Our Most Important Relationships” , lack of funding meant he had to turn to human behavior.

And he discovered that, when it comes to relating and making friends, we are not very different from them. He also stated that the maximum number of friends we can have is 150, which became known as the“Dunbar number”, a measure of the cognitive limit of individuals with whom one can have a stable relationship.

His latest book is a compendium of his research and other studies carried out from psychology, anthropology and even neuroscience on something such as everyday and common as making friends, but which has a very complex framework behind it. So much so that, he says, it is a miracle that it happens without too many mishaps.

It is so and there are 2 reasons. One is because of the things you do with them: you laugh, tell stories, sing, dance... All of this activates the endorphin system in your brain. Endorphins are part of the brain's pain management system and suppress low-level pain and stress felt by the muscles and make you feel more comfortable.

They are like opiates similar to morphine. They lighten our load, lift our mood, and make us happier and more confident with the world around us. Being with friends saves us. This generates endorphins, which are the best antidepressant medication we can have. And best of all, it is free.

And what about the other reason?

It turns out that when endorphins are produced in the brain, they activate the immune system, and particularly this is part of the white blood cell system that makes you get rid of bacteria, viruses and things like that in the body. But there are particular components that trigger endorphins that target particular viruses and also some cancers. So there you can see that there is a direct effect on physical well-being.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that people who have a close good friend recover faster from illnesses, major surgeries and the like. In his book, he gives as an example of the strength of the group, of unity and the power of endorphins, the famous Maori dance performed by the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks.

Everything triggers the endorphin system. I think that is how they get a high level of them. And this means that they can run more and resist more during games because their muscles are protected against pain. If they are hurt, they don't feel that way. I think that is the secret of his success; that is very smart.

The flip side of this, he says, is that loneliness reduces neural connectivity and plasticity, at least in experiments on rats. Does the same happen in humans? We still do not know much about what actually happens to the brain. We continue to learn about this. But overall, research suggests that the brain's wiring for managing friendships or family relationships is highly complex.

The effect of having friends on the brain

It requires a lot of sophistication of the brain, to engage in very complex and sophisticated computations, it involves a very large neural system , a large network. And the brain is very susceptible if there is any kind of break in the connections. If you do not wear something, it is like it shrinks. If you do not use your brain, it becomes less efficient.

I said before that friendships require complex calculations. In the book, and in his research, he talks about relationships as if they were a kind of mathematical dance involving time and chemistry.

The best analogy is that of soccer. The biological component is a bit like the size of the pitch, the white lines on the pitch and the rules limit what you can and cannot do. But just having that information does not win a game; what allows you to win it is the skill you exhibit.

The same is true in the social world

At 5 years old we all already understand the rules, but one does not become a fully adult until 25 years old. There are those who need more time... Some of us never get there (laughs). And what someone loves today, they hate tomorrow. It is completely chaotic and unpredictable. This complexity requires a large computer.

There is a lot of math involved, but also a lot of practice in understanding the signals you get from watching people behave, what they say. He has even said on occasion that it is a miracle that we are not trying to kill others all the time.

Living very close to other people is very stressful. Not just because they do things you do not like, but because it is kind of hard to coordinate. These problems are not unique to humans; in fact, they are characteristic of the entire animal kingdom. You have to win to be able to live in groups and, at the same time, to be able to benefit from living in groups.

Of course, living in a group has been enormously beneficial for us, but for this we have had to find ways to solve the problems of living together, such as coalitions, for example. But also the mechanisms we use to bond with our friends, such as singing, dancing and eating together.

When groups grow, as they did when villages grew, relationships increased and they had to find ways to allow more people to live together. And that seems to have occurred together with having big celebrations, dinners or dances to better manage frustrations and not kill each other.

And now it seems that we are going in the opposite direction, towards an increasingly individualistic society without cooperation systems. Are we going against biology? As a society that is lonelier, can we also get sicker?

Not at all; it is one of the consequences of wanting to live outside the stress of the group, outside the natural state in which mammals live. Even monkeys and apes have had to involve mechanisms to avoid that pressure.

The problem in humans is that it creates worse problems in the future. It is like medicines: they have something good for a particular ailment but sometimes they create another problem. In our case, it makes us less cohesive.

There has been a much greater distance from the community, from the environment in which everyone participated, and now everything is much more focused on the small family of a couple or, many times, in isolation.

Men and women; how do they behave?

People end up confined to their homes because they do not know anyone outside. They do not have those external networks to provide them with physical, social and moral support. This is the dysfunctional environment in which we find ourselves. There are clear effects on the endorphin system and they are stronger than the benefit of isolating, so the overall net effect is very negative.

He went so far as to say that it was better to go to a bar with friends than to go for a run... In fact, running is very beneficial because it activates the endorphin system. It even works better if you are going with other people, because there is something about the synchronicity of the footsteps that makes everyone go in one rhythm and this somehow increases the production of endorphins in the brain. This is very valuable.

But the problem is that if you go alone you will not talk to anyone...

While sitting around a table, there are more opportunities for you to laugh, something very important to activate the endorphin system. Everything that happens around a table is designed to maximize the effectiveness of social bonding and the benefits that come with it.

In their research, they also found that there is a key difference between men and women, not just in the makeup of the brain, but also in the way they handle friendships and relationships.

And this is supported not only by our research, but by a lot of other research in this area. The social world works for men and women very, very differently.

At the simplest level we can describe, it is who you are that matters to women, not what you are. The social world of men is much more like a club, and the important thing there is not who you are, but what you are. The criteria for belonging can be very trivial like“Can you lift a glass of beer from the table to your lips without spilling it? If you can do that, you're a member of the club”.

Men's relationships are much more replaceable, whereas in women, if that specific individual you have the bond with leaves, it creates a lot of angst. They seek to speak; they seek to do an activity, no matter what it is. They will seek to maintain friendship over the phone or by whatever method, while they search for the next available person. None is better than another; they are different ways of solving the same problem.

That is something about the brain. I do not think it is something about socialization, because we see these patterns at a very early age. And we see it in the apes; which happens to them in exactly the same way. These kinds of things seem to be related to structural differences in the way the brains develop in men and women.

And when those friendships break, what happens to our health, to our brain?

That is a very painful thing. Psychologically, it is strong but, on the other hand, that psychological pain can bring benefits. We feel that psychological pain in the same place in the brain where we feel physical pain, and as a result, the endorphin system is activated.

That is why we like sad movies, because they give us that endorphin kick and make you feel warm and at peace with the world afterwards. That is the reason why, when something bad happens, the advice is given to have a good cry.

You say that there are 7 key pillars for one person to be friends with another. What makes a person a good friend?

This effect of the 7 pillars is relatively new. The more general phenomenon is known as homophily. That is, you are looking for people similar to you. This was first seen as a very common characteristic of friendship about 15 or 20 years ago. Friends tend to be very similar to us in certain ways: same language, same religion and same interests. But then we started to see this in a more serious way.

There are 2 components involved; one of them is biological. An important part of our network is part of our family and that does not change throughout life, even if you lose contact for a while, because it's more easily resumed.

Then there is a cultural component. And this is where those 7 pillars come in, which are: having the same language or, even better, the same dialect; grow in the same area. What do you do, you know, doctors usually hang out with doctors, and journalists with journalists and so on; have the same interests; and thus have the same vision of the world, which goes from practicing the same religion to having the same moral or political points of view.

And then there are the last 2, which are really interesting: having the same taste in music and the same sense of humor. This is more directly related, I suspect, to the endorphin system .

In conclusion, why is it important to have and make friends?

A small number of good quality friends have a positive impact on health and well-being. It has an effect on your health and well-being that is truly prodigious. But secondly, of course.... It is fun having friends, right? And if you do not have friends, who are you going to tell jokes to and who is going to make you laugh?

At Resonance, we aspire to live in harmony with the natural world as a reflection of our gratitude for life. Visit and subscribe at Resonance Costa Rica Youtube Channel Staff ViaWilmer Useche


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