If you engage in social media are you being social? You email, you text, you twitter, you leave voicemails for people, so you are plugged in, right? Well, actually not. In all of these means of communication you are not actually physically interacting with another person. True social bonding requires a physical reaction to the presence of other people. Do you tend to work alone a lot? At your desk on your computer? Then maybe you aren’t being as social as you think. And this lack of physical contact may actually affect the quality of the work that you and your team does.
The Neuro Science of Social Bonding — People are social animals. In order to work together they have to have social interactions. There are complicated hormonal and chemical changes that occur in your brain and throughout your body when you bond with others. In this post I’ll focus on just one mechanism of social bonding — laughter.
Research on Laughter — Considering how universal laughter is and how much of it we do, there is, relatively, not a lot of research on laughter. One of the main researchers is Robert Provine from University of Maryland. Here is a summary of some of the research he has done… some of these findings may surprise you:
- Laughter is universal: All humans in all cultures laugh
- Laughter is unconscious: You can’t actually laugh on command — it will be fake laughter if you try to.
- Laughter is for social communication: We rarely laugh when we are alone. We laugh 30 times more often when we are with others.
- Laughter is contagious: We will smile and then start laughing as we hear others laugh
- Laughter appears early in babies: at about 4 months old
- Laughter is not about humor: Provine studied over 2,000 cases of naturally occurring laughter and most of it did not happen as a result of “humor” such as telling jokes. Most laughter followed statements such as “Hey John, where ya been?” or “Here comes Mary”, or “How did you do on the test?” Laughter after these types of statements bond people together socially. Only 20% of laughter is from jokes.
- We rarely laugh in the middle of a sentence. It is usually at the end.
- Other primate and mammals laugh. There are videos of rats laughing while being tickled.
- Speaking of tickling, laughing seems to have “evolved” from tickling.
- Most laughing occurs by the person who is speaking, not the person who is listening. The person who is speaking laughs twice as much.
- Women laugh more than twice as much as men.
- Laughter denotes social status. The higher up on the hierarchy you are in a group, the less you will laugh.
An example: the challenge of remote teams — I work a lot with remote teams. You may also be familiar with the challenges. You may have to deal with time zone differences, less than optimal phone connections, language barriers, but I wonder if you’ve considered that the biggest challenge may be lack of social bonding and lack of in-person laughter. Even if everyone is in the same building, if they aren’t working together in person then there is a lack of social bonding. Consider at least having periodic phone calls so that there can be some laughter. If you talk on the phone then you can at least hear each other laugh, even if you are missing the in-person cues. If at all possible, get together with other people from your work team in person for at least one meeting now and then. That way laughing and social bonding will occur, and even if you work apart the rest of the time you will have had some experience of social bonding.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? We use “social media” the most when we aren’t being social!
For more reading: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, by Robert Provine, 2001.
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