Category: Conversation/Talk Study

Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health – Jane E. Brody

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Hurray for the HotBlack Coffee cafe in Toronto for declining to offer Wi-Fi to its customers. There are other such cafes, to be sure, including seven of the eight New York City locations of Café Grumpy. But it’s HotBlack’s reason for the electronic blackout that is cause for hosannas. As its president, Jimson Bienenstock, explained, his aim is to get customers to talk with one another instead of being buried in their portable devices.

“It’s about creating a social vibe,” he told a New York Times reporter. “We’re a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it’s just a commodity.” What a novel idea! Perhaps Mr. Bienenstock instinctively knows what medical science has been increasingly demonstrating for decades: Social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity.

Personally, I don’t need research-based evidence to appreciate the value of making and maintaining social connections. I experience it daily during my morning walk with up to three women, then before and after my swim in the locker room of the YMCA where the use of electronic devices is not allowed.

The locker room experience has been surprisingly rewarding. I’ve made many new friends with whom I can share both joys and sorrows. The women help me solve problems big and small, providing a sounding board, advice and counsel and often a hearty laugh that brightens my day.

And, as myriad studies have shown, they may also be helping to save my life. As the Harvard Women’s Health Watch reported, “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”

In a study of 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, Calif., begun in 1965, Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that “people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties,” John Robbins recounted in his marvelous book on health and longevity, “Healthy at 100.”

This major difference in survival occurred regardless of people’s age, gender, health practices or physical health status. In fact, the researchers found that “those with close social ties and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits,” Mr. Robbins wrote. However, he quickly added, “Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived the longest of all.”

In another study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1984, researchers at the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York found that among 2,320 men who had survived a heart attack, those with strong connections with other people had only a quarter the risk of death within the following three years as those who lacked social connectedness.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center also found that social ties can reduce deaths among people with serious medical conditions. Beverly H. Brummett and colleagues reported in 2001 that among adults with coronary artery disease, the mortality rate was 2.4 times higher among those who were socially isolated.

In a column I wrote in 2013 called “Shaking Off Loneliness,” I cited a review of research published in 1988 indicating that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”

People who are chronically lacking in social contacts are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain.

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Absent social interactions, blood flow to vital organs is likely to be reduced and immune function may be undermined. Even how genes are expressed can be adversely affected, impairing the body’s ability to turn off inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and even suicide attempts.

In a 2010 report in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez, sociology researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, cited “consistent and compelling evidence linking a low quantity or quality of social ties with a host of conditions,” including the development and worsening of cardiovascular disease, repeat heart attacks, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, cancer and slowed wound healing.

The Texas researchers pointed out that social interactions can enhance good health through a positive influence on people’s living habits. For example, if none of your friends smoke, you’ll be less likely to smoke. According to the researchers, the practice of health behaviors like getting regular exercise, consuming a balanced diet and avoiding smoking, excessive weight gain and abuse of alcohol and drugs “explains about 40 percent of premature mortality as well as substantial morbidity and disability in the United States.”

Lack of social interactions also damages mental health. The emotional support provided by social connections helps to reduce the damaging effects of stress and can foster “a sense of meaning and purpose in life,” the Texas researchers wrote.

Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” wrote, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.

“In other words,” Dr. Seppala explained, “social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”

She suggested that a societal decline in social connectedness may help to explain recent increases in reports of loneliness, isolation and alienation, and may be why loneliness has become a leading reason people seek psychological counseling. By 2004, she wrote, sociological research revealed that more than 25 percent of Americans had no one to confide in. They lacked a close friend with whom they felt comfortable sharing a personal problem.

For those seeking a health-promoting lifestyle, it’s not enough to focus on eating your veggies and getting regular exercise. Dr. Seppala advises: “Don’t forget to connect.”

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AI Can Now Identify You By Your Walking Style – Ashley Sams

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Similar to snowflakes, every individual’s walking style is unique to him or her. Gizmodo shares that work is being done to create a new footstep recognition tool that could replace retinal scanners and fingerprinting at security checkpoints.

“Each human has approximately 24 different factors and movements when walking, resulting in every individual person having a unique, singular walking pattern,” says Omar Costilla Reyes, the lead author of the new study and a computer scientist at the University of Manchester.

Reyes created the largest footsteps database in existence by collecting 20,000 footstep signals from 120 individuals. Using this database, Reyes trains the artificially intelligent system to scour through the data and analyze weight distribution, gait speed, and three-dimensional measures of each walking style.

The results so far show that, on average, the system is 100 percent accurate in identifying individuals.

Which Online Conversations Will End in Conflict? AI Knows.

According to The Verge, researchers at Cornell University, Google Jigsaw, and Wikimedia have created an artificial intelligence system that can predict whether or not an online conversation will end in conflict.

To do so, they trained the system using the “talk page” on Wikipedia articles—where editors discuss changes to phrasing, the need for better sources, and so on.

The system is trained to look for several indicators to gauge whether the conversation is amicable or unfriendly. Signs of a positive conversation include the use of the word “please,” greetings (“How’s your day going?”), and gratitude (“Thanks for your help”).

On the contrast, telling signs of a negative dialogue include direct questioning (“Why didn’t you look at this?”) and use of second person pronouns (“Your sources are incomplete”).

Currently, the AI can correctly predict the sentiment outcome of an online discussion 64 percent of the time. Humans still perform the task better, making the right call 72 percent of the time. However, this development shows we’re on the right path to creating machines that can intervene in online arguments.

AI Across Industries

In a recent Forbes article, author Bernard Marr shares 27 examples of artificial intelligence and machine learning currently being implemented across industries. If you don’t have time to read the full list, we’ve shared a few of our favorites below.

In consumer goods, companies like Coca-Cola and Heineken are using artificial intelligence to sort through their mounds of data to improve their operations, marketing, advertising, and customer service.

In energy, GE uses big data, machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology to build an “internet of energy.” Machine learning and analytics enable predictive maintenance and business optimization for GE’s vision of a “digital power plant.”

In social media, tech giants Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are using artificial intelligence to fight cyberbullying, racist content, and spam, further enhancing the user experience.

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