Study Shows Having Strong Social Bonds Improves Health

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Having strong social bonds with close social circles could have significant improvement in one’s health, a recent study has found.

The study, which employed self-reported data from more than 13,000 people across 122 countries, was conducted under the leadership of scientists from the University of Kent, Nottingham Trent University (NTU), and Coventry University and published in the journal Science Advances.

Anthropologist at the University of Kent, Dr Martha Newson, said, “This research speaks to the universal need to belong—this is one of the reasons we felt it was so important to include a truly diverse sample from across the globe. Wherever you are in the world, other people matter to you.

“We found that having lots of groups was important to encourage better health behaviors, including bonding to abstract groups like your country or government, but most important of all are our closest friends and family—groups that we have likely recognised as being important since the beginning of human history.”

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According to the investigation, strong relationships with both immediate and distant social networks are linked to greater mental and physical health. Importantly, the more groups with which a person identifies  as belonging, the higher the percentage of healthy behaviors they engaged in and the better their reported psychological well-being, including lower levels of anxiety and sadness.

The findings reveal that only close family ties—rather than ties to other social groups—are associated with participating in healthy behavior; in this case, examples were hand washing, wearing a mask, and social withdrawal.

For instance, 46 per cent of persons with strong family ties cleaned their hands at least “a lot” compared to 32 per cent of those with weaker ties. In addition, 54 per cent of those who did not bond with their family said they had never worn a mask. Bonded persons were far more likely to engage in health-related practices. Despite making up just 27 per cent of the total sample, persons with strong family relationships made up 73 per cent  of those who participated in social distance, 35 per cent  of those who cleaned their hands, and 36 per cent of those who wore a mask “a lot” or more.

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Senior Lecturer in Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, Dr  Bahar Tunçgenç, added, “At times of turmoil, such as during disasters, social crises, or pandemics, our social bonds can be key to receiving support. We look out to people we trust and identify with as we decide what course of action to take. That’s why our close bonds with family—the people many of us share significant life events with and learn from—can promote healthy behaviors.

“At the same time, having strong social connections—no matter how abstract or distant these might be—is crucial for promoting mental health. Our research shows that close and extended social bonds offer different sources of support and direction”.

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According to the research, public health messages should target smaller networks as well as multiple groupings, especially during times of crisis, when people should be encouraged to share their beneficial health practices with their intimate social circles.

The study’s findings, which included participants from Bangladesh, Brazil, and Peru, have implications for addressing harmful physical and mental health consequences on a worldwide scale. By addressing such a large portion of the worldwide population, the study goes beyond the scope of typical methodologies in psychology.

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