Positive relationships contribute to longevity
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Highly consistent evidence has accumulated over the last 60 years on the association between social support and health and longevity. While the strength of this association varies from study to study, it is equivalent to other well-documented risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Social relationships actually exceed the influence of risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity (Vila, 2021; Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010; Berkman et al., 1979).
In one study, individuals were voluntarily injected with a cold virus and had their symptoms monitored by researchers. Those who were more socially isolated were 45 percent more likely to become ill (Cohen et al., 2003). A study involving 7,000 people over nine years found that those with more social ties tended to live longer regardless of their socioeconomic status, smoking, drinking, exercise, or obesity (Berkman et al., 1979). In a meta-analysis examining 148 studies (308,849 participants), the results indicated a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships. This finding remained consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010).
The most popular explanation for this phenomenon is the stress-buffering hypothesis – the idea that social support protects us against the detrimental impacts of stress. Our mental state directly affects our biological processes. When an individual experiences stress, cortisol (the stress hormone) increases in their body and activities the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Loneliness has also been proven to increase cortisol and inflammation – both of which have negative impacts on health over time (Harmon, 2010).
Evidence Roots of Empathy improves relationships:
- “[Throughout] the course I have found the children have become more skilled in understanding emotions. They can identify what they/we feel and put it into words. It has helped the children build better relationships. I have noticed that the children have become more aware of their emotions and they can talk about their/others feelings more clearly, they can avoid or resolve conflicts better, and move past difficult feelings more easily.” (Testimonial from Grade3/4 Teacher, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland)
- “The students seemed to really understand that we are all different yet but the same. It was amazing to see them, over the course of the year, collaborate on different projects – often students who wouldn’t normally work together were now assisting each other with finding words for the collage, creating a gift for the baby, etc. The teacher also mentioned on numerous occasions that she noticed that the program was having an impact on the way that the students responded and worked together.” (Testimonial from Grade 6 Instructor, Surrey, B.C.)
- “Roots of Empathy can teach the world how to care for not only babies but grown people too. It can help show that we all have feelings and wants. It helped to teach me how to be a better friend by teaching me how to feel more empathy and then act on it. If everybody on this earth got a chance to experience Roots of Empathy wars would end and we would all be able to just understand one another without violence and hatred.” (Testimonial from Grade 7 Student, Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School, Georgetown, Ontario)
- “ROE had a huge impact on emotions and learn and many of my shy/quiet kids opened up and made great connections and new friendships as a result.” (Testimonial from Grade 6 Teacher, Oakville, Ontario)
How the pandemic has impacted children’s relationships…
Social-emotional skills and mental health and wellbeing, which are linked to making and sustaining relationships, declined during the pandemic. In Ontario, over 92% of educators reported that students’ development of social-emotional skills, such as problem-solving and conflict resolution, declined in virtual learning. This included a decline in socialization and emotion-regulation skills; increase in aggression and bullying; decline in collaboration and problem-solving skills; decline in empathy; and students not feeling comfortable to express their social and emotional needs (Bayrami, 2022). Over 83% of families reported their children’s social-emotional and mental wellbeing declined in terms of loneliness and isolation; increased sadness and depression; increased agitation/anger/mood swings; increased emotionality/emotion regulation difficulties; and increased anxiety and stress (Bayrami, 2022).
Roots of Empathy plays a crucial role in building back children’s skills in relationship building after the pandemic. By lowering aggression, and increasing prosocial behaviours, empathy, and mental health, children are able to forge stronger, healthier relationships with peers. Not only will this help them recover from the last few years of isolation — but they will live longer and better lives because of it.
Berkman LF, Syme SL. Social networks, host resistance, and mortality: a nine-year follow-up study of Alameda County residents. Am J Epidemiol. 1979;109(2):186-204. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a112674
Bayrami, L. (May 2022). Key Findings: The Implications of Virtual Teaching and Learning in Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, K-12. Ontario Teachers’ Federation. http://www.otffeo.on.ca/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/05/Key-Findings-Lisa-Bayrami-The-Implications-of-Virtual-Teaching-and-Learning-in-Ontario’s-Publicly-Funded-Schools-K-12.pdf.
Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. (2003). Sociability and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Psychological Science, 14(5), 389–395. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.01452
Harmon, K. (2010). Social Ties Boost Survival by 50 Percent. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/relationships-boost-survival/.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., Layton, J.B. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 7(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
Vila, J. (Sept 2021). Social Support and Longevity. Frontiers Psychology, (13). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.717164.