Social Baseline Theory, Optimal Health, and the Management of Difficult Emotions

Social relationships facilitate health and well being. In fact, research shows that the more socially isolated we are, the more likely we are to die, of anything, at any time, no matter where we live or what culture we inhabit. We are deeply social creatures. Social Baseline Theory (SBT) proposes that the ecology to which humans are adapted is any that is rich with other humans. Indeed, the human brain tends to assume the presence of other people, especially those who are familiar to us. Violations of this expectation cause heightened levels of vigilance processing, which causes a cascade of effects that ripple through everything from our cognitive and motor capabilities to the functioning of our immune system. This causes the brain to relax much of its vigilance and regulatory behavior when we are in close proximity to individuals who are familiar to us. In this talk, I will review recent evidence from our laboratory that social relationships have the effects on our health and well being that we claim.