Psychology of Social Connection

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Pand(empathy): Processing the Emotions of a Pandemic

February 27th, 2021 · 5 Comments


Less than a week after being kicked out of my college dorm and moving back home, there I stood in the middle of my childhood room—a disheveled, half-painted (both the walls and, due to my frantic painting style, myself) mess as I tried to prepare my personal space for what seemed to be a stay-at-home order with an undetermined end. As I took a needed break from painting some time past midnight, I grabbed my phone to look at the most recent news of a disease still new to me. The New York Times had reported an estimated 4,043 new cases of the Coronavirus and 50 new deaths on that day, March 19th (New York Times). I fell onto my bed in the middle of my room and began reading the stories of those families who lost their loved ones so unexpectedly. As I read, I began to feel the pain of their stories, the fear of the workers who sacrificed their own health to try to save them, and the hopelessness of all the others like me who were reading that the “darkest days of the disease are ahead.” Needless to say, I felt utterly defeated beyond myself.

Nearly a year later and the United States has seen over half a million total deaths and days where the number of daily new cases have reached well above 300,000. However, as the updates came with skyrocketing numbers and increasing rates, I no longer felt defeated the same way that I had in mid-March. The numbers became normal, and I began to wonder—how could I, along with everyone else digesting new tragedy in a constantly changing pandemic, have had such a dramatic change in heart? 

The collapse of compassion is the decrease in empathetic response that we experience as the number of people suffering increases. Some studies have supported the hypothesis that this decrease in affect plateaus as the number of individuals increases, creating a “psychological numbing” effect (Fetherstonhaugh, Sandlovic, Johnson, and Friedrich, 1997), while others have argued that the decrease in affect continues to decrease as the number of suffering individuals increases. In the case of the pandemic, it seems the latter is more aligned with my personal experience—a “dehumanization” possibly due to the costliness of mentally-draining empathy in a pandemic that has now persisted for a year (Cameron, Harris, & Payne, 2015).

The sources of compassion collapse, however, are debated. Theory about the conceptual representation of groups tends to support a “tragedy versus statistic” mentality; individuals require more attention put into perspective taking and therefore more effectively trigger an affective response compared to groups (Hamilton and Sherman, 1996). However, in a study conducted by Cameron and Payne (2011), experiments found initial evidence supporting an alternative theory that compassion collapse is driven by motivated emotion regulation, such as a motive to prevent the experience of overwhelming levels of emotion.

A shared theme between these hypotheses seems to be that the costliness of empathy—whether it be in the processing of perspectives or in the emotion-sharing capacity it requires—moderates our ability to empathize with large numbers of people. Recognizing our own collapse of compassion in a pandemic makes us, ironically, recognize the emotionally incomprehensible amount of suffering our society has undergone. Recognition of our limitations to empathize may in turn provide forgiveness for ourselves in navigating the collective long-term effects of an emotionally draining and traumatic year.



I used to watch the news obsessively in March and April and feel terribly for the people who were getting infected and dying from COVID-19 and for the healthcare workers who were risking their lives taking care of them. It was heartbreaking to hear the updates, but I felt like it was the only possible response. How could I be happy in a time like this? As the months went on, I got numb to the news and felt exhausted just thinking about COVID. Since then, I have been experiencing what many people call pandemic fatigue. Empathy involves both the ability to understand another’s thoughts, feelings and perspective as well as sharing in the emotions of others (de Waal, 2008). One of the many reasons for fatigue is the difficulty of sharing in the feelings of another person let alone the over 500,000 people we have lost and so many more who have suffered in ways both big and small. 

Although empathy can be overwhelming, it can lead to prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and altruism (de Waal, 2008). As we have all witnessed over the past year, cooperation is an essential component of getting through an infectious pandemic. Cooperation is needed to follow the health guidelines that keep everyone safe. Cooperation is needed to form mutual aid groups to assist people struggling. It makes sense, then, that empathy might impact the way a group of people or an entire country responds to a pandemic. We have also seen over the past year that different countries have responded differently in the face of this pandemic. Could differences in empathy play a role in explaining the differences in people’s willingness to cooperate for the greater good?

Aival-Naveh, Rothschild-Yakar, and Kurman (2019) did a review of literature that analyzes empathy differences across cultures. The studies divided cultures into either collectivistic, more concerned with others than the self, or individualistic, more concerned with the self than others. By pure definition, it seems that collectivistic cultures would be more empathetic, but the results were more complicated than that. Several brain imaging studies where participants were exposed to the physical and social pain of others supported the finding that collectivistic cultures have higher empathy (Aival-Naveh, Rothschild-Yakar, and Kurman, 2019). Additionally, studies that looked at cognitive empathy or perspective taking consistently found that participants from collectivistic countries were better able to consider another’s perspective than participants from individualistic countries (Aival-Naveh, Rothschild-Yakar, and Kurman, 2019).

One study conducted across 63 countries supported these findings and found that countries with higher empathy also had higher levels of collectivism (Chopik, O’Brien, and Konrath, 2017). However, these data were self-reported, which calls into question the reliability of the empathy rating. It’s possible that people from collectivistic countries see themselves as more empathetic and thus rate themselves as more empathetic. Furthermore, other self-reported surveys found the opposite: that people from individualistic countries had higher empathy than people from collectivist countries (Aival-Naveh, Rothschild-Yakar, and Kurman, 2019). The results are far from definitive but intriguing nonetheless. Future research might directly compare individual countries’ pandemic numbers with their ability to empathize.

Even with its limitations considered, empathy can be an incredibly powerful tool for navigating the pandemic. Understanding our ability to empathize with a group is an integral part of a pandemic that has affected everyone, and acknowledging our limits can help us know not to give up even when the costs of empathy become overwhelming.



Aival-Naveh E., Rothschild‐ Yakar L., Kurman J. (2019). Keeping culture in mind: A systematic review and initial conceptualization of mentalizing from a cross‐cultural perspective. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 26(4), 1-25. https://doi. org/10.1111/cpsp.12300

Cameron, C. D., & Payne, B. K. (2011). Escaping affect: How motivated emotion regulation creates insensitivity to mass suffering. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(1), 1–15.

Chopik, W. J., O’Brien, E., Konrath, S. H. (2017). Differences in Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking Across 63 Countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(1), 23-28.

Coronavirus in the US: Latest Map and Case Count. The New York Times.

De Waal, F. B. M. (2008). Putting the Altruism Back Into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 279-300.

Fetherstonhaugh, D., Slovic, P., Johnson, S. M., & Friedrich, J. (1997). Insensitivity to the value of human life: A study of psychophysical numbing. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 14, 283-300.

Hamilton, D. L., and Sherman, S. J. (1996). Perceiving persons and groups. Psychological Review, 103, 336-355.


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Open When Letters and Breakups: A Tale of Two Sides of Empathy

February 26th, 2021 · 4 Comments


“And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone

Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me

‘Cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street” (Rodrigo, 2021, 1:25).


I’ve been obsessed with this song ever since it went viral on TikTok. But who isn’t? Who could not empathize with Olivia Rodrigo, take her perspective, or imagine how this relates to one’s own breakup(s)? That’s empathy at work: it operates when we share another’s emotions, mentalize, and monitor the origin of the other’s feelings and their situation (Perry, 2021). Observing another’s emotional state somewhat automatically causes us to activate similar brain regions like the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, therefore, in a sense, ‘match their energy.’ This intrinsic matching promotes altruistic behavior, which is rewarding in that it gives us an emotional stake in another’s well-being through the empathetic gesture (de Waal, 2008). So, empathy is crucial to “feel for” Olivia in this heartfelt breakup song and – more importantly – to maintain close relationships that are emotionally satisfying and healthy in our own lives.


Empathy gives us the chance to quickly connect and relate to others, which we need for coordination and cooperation in our social lives (de Waal, 2008). In building and maintaining intimate relationships, empathy is a “vital emotional force” that is, however, not always automatic (Zaki, 2014). We must tune into our significant others’ love languages and unique perspective to understand their emotional experience and expression.

From my personal repertoire, I can report back that it takes a long time to comprehend complex combos of words of affirmation, quality time, and gift giving to fully understand them. Here’s a great example of how you can go above and beyond to make sure that someone knows that you feel with/for them; open when letters were a great way for me to find the correct words and emotional state to match the feelings and needs of someone close to me, even from a distance (I wrote 18 in total, a little excessive):

Open when letters offer a pathway to express that you are tuned into another’s feelings. Such acts not only require empathy but also psychological factors like theory of mind and a lack of egocentrism (Zaki & Cikara, 2015). And so, we’ve learned that empathy can help us improve our own physiological state by engaging in prosocial behaviors, but also brighten someone else’s day and build a stronger connection.

Empathy is also needed during conflict situations and breakups, such as in Olivia’s hit-song and viral TikTok conversation-starter. In conflict-reduction interventions, the focus is on remedying empathic failures by encouraging adults and children to care about others’ feelings and respect diverging views (Zaki & Cikara, 2015). When we regulate our own emotional responses and truly put our differences aside, it can make it easier to rationalize someone else’s views and behaviors. Through teaching specific techniques, learning from those around us, and engaging in perspective-taking throughout development and later in life, it might be possible for that breakup song to hurt less and to, eventually, be okay now that the other person is gone.



In the classic sitcom The Big Bang Theory, besides our constant laughter, we may wonder how people can grow up with such different empathy abilities! While Penny can always infer correctly about others’ feelings and react sympathetically, those four super intelligent but socially awkward ‘nerds’ can hardly figure out what on earth is in girls’ heads. Even among the four, the differences are also significant, for Sheldon frequently finds it very hard to even predict his friends’ feelings.

However, these things are not coincidences, or designed for the plots. Instead, it often happens in our life too. For instance, we sometimes want to share our feelings with someone we care about. Then, unfortunately, instead of giving proper responses, they continuously misunderstand our situation. If we cannot get a sense of understanding or acceptance from a friend, we can simply reduce the interaction with him. However, what if this happens in our family? It can certainly cause lots of imbalances.

This brings me the question of what on earth causes the differences and how we can make up for it.

First, it’s attributed to inborn human brain structure. Empathy can be divided into two categories: cognitive empathy, the ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking; affective empathy (emotional empathy), the ability to share the feelings of another person(Davis, 1980). Emotional empathy is supported by regions related to self-other mirroring and affective processing, such as the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, somatosensory cortex, and inferior frontal gyrus, whereas cognitive empathy is supported by regions related to mentalizing and projecting, such as the medial prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction, and temporal pole (Abramson, Uzefovsky, Toccaceli, & Knafo-Noam, 2020) (a more vivid illustration can be found in It was found that individual differences in affective empathic abilities oriented towards another person were negatively correlated with grey matter volume in the precuneus, inferior frontal gyrus, and anterior cingulate (Banissy, Kanai, Walsh, & Rees, 2012). Additionally, cognitive empathy is shown to be reduced with age, which has been partially proved to be related to reduced brain activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex(Beadle & de la Vega, 2019). Additionally, candidate gene studies have found, for example, that genes that encode for receptors of oxytocin and vasopressin have different associations with measures of emotional and cognitive empathy (Abramson et al., 2020), though some contradictions can be found among these studies.

On top of that, environmental factors also play a role during the empathy formation and development. For instance, exposure to norms of emotional schemas or cultural beliefs about emotions can influence individuals’ emotional experiences. These factors of shared environment include domestic teaching behaviors, social media (Schapira, Anger Elfenbein, Amichay-Setter, Zahn-Waxler, & Knafo-Noam, 2019), specific trainings (Han & Pappas, 2018) etc. By using twin studies, it was found that environment contribute more to cognitive empathy (Abramson et al., 2020), for emotional empathy is derived largely from heritable temperament traits, such as emotional reactivity, regulation, and approach(Davis, Luce, & Kraus, 1994), while cognitive empathy develops more slowly and therefore relies more strongly on learning experiences and growing exposure to cultural nuances (Abramson et al., 2020).

Backing to The Big Bang Theory, we can possibly deduce that Sheldon’s low empathy might mostly result from his genetic background, though surrounded with such a loving family, while Leonard’s higher but still incomplete empathy might mostly result from his mother’s abnormal parenting methods. However, do not be so disappointed when you are born with low empathy, because your acquired training and lifestyle do play an equally great role in your empathic ability. You can get a clue directly from Sheldon’s example that, influenced by his intimate friends and Amy, Sheldon did grow a lot especially in his empathetic aspects.



Okay so we’ve learned a bit about love languages, breakups, and how empathic tendencies can change depending on your environment and upbringing, but is the amount of empathy we feel related to our own emotions? As we discussed in class, this idea of an “emotional battery” somewhat like a social battery kept popping up. If we are more emotionally distressed do we show less empathy to others? Do we have a limit on how much empathy we can feel? 

On first thought, my answer would be yes. We’ve all been there– you’re having a bummer day. Your coffee was cold, you got rejected from a job, and you just got off an emotionally draining phone call with your sibling. Nothing seems to be going your way, and you feel like you simply cannot handle one more thing. But can we? Does being in a worse mood actually make us more empathetic? 

The empathy amplification hypothesis predicts that positive emotion would be associated with greater empathy while the empathy attenuation hypothesis predicts the opposite; that positive emotion would be associated with lower empathy (Delvin et al. 2014). There seems to be a possibility in both hypotheses: it has been shown that positive emotions are linked to a broader thought-action repertoire that leads to building social resources, and increased positive emotions can increase helping others (Fredrickson, 1998). As Lara mentioned, empathy is a way to quickly connect with others and build our social relationships. However, on the flip side, it has been shown that theory-of-mind use was increased and facilitated by sadness as compared to happiness (Converse et al. 2008). This shows that when we feel happiness, we might actually be less likely to practice empathy (which requires theory-of-mind in being able to identify someone else’s mental state) than when we feel sad. 

Okay so which is it? Do negative emotions and sadness lead to less empathy or actually more? Delvin et al. found two interesting conclusions: one, that trait positive emotions (the tendency to experience positive emotions) was associated with lower levels of empathy towards someone experiencing negative emotions, and two, that trait positive emotion participants were more likely to detect increases in mood of others. Boiling this down shows that there might be a relationship between empathy and your current emotional state– if you are happy, empathizing with others who are happy could be easier than empathizing with others who are sad and vice versa. This seems to be the only study of its kind, so I do warn against taking it as the end all be all, but an interesting hypothesis to look deeper into. It does seem to make sense– if we are more to empathize with people similar to us, then it should make sense that empathy would be easier with emotionally similar others. When my roommate comes home in a great mood, I notice myself becoming instantly more happy — empathy impacts us all the time! 

One one hand, it may be easier for us to empathize with people who are feeling similar emotions to us, but it is possible for continued exposure to and use of empathy inducing situations can take a toll on our empathy battery. But on the other side of that, as Lara and Yufeng discussed, there are so many incredibly positive benefits to empathy. From forming and maintaining satisfying and healthy relationships, to positive interactions with others and conflict resolution, to in many cases, making the world a better place, empathy is a defining human characteristic. It’s why we are able to relate to Olivia Rodrigo’s Drivers License, feel joy for our loved ones when they are happy, and give support to those in need. 


Thanks for reading!



Abramson, L., Uzefovsky, F., Toccaceli, V., & Knafo-Noam, A. (2020). The genetic and environmental origins of emotional and cognitive empathy: Review and meta-analyses of twin studies. Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 114, 113-133. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.03.023

Banissy, M. J., Kanai, R., Walsh, V., & Rees, G. (2012). Inter-individual differences in empathy are reflected in human brain structure. Neuroimage, 62(3), 2034-2039. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.05.081

Beadle, J. N., & de la Vega, C. E. (2019). Impact of Aging on Empathy: Review of Psychological and Neural Mechanisms. Front Psychiatry, 10, 331. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00331

Davis, M. H. (1980). Individual Differences in Empathy: A Multidimensional Approach. University of Texas at Austin

Davis, M. H., Luce, C., & Kraus, S. J. (1994). The heritability of characteristics associated with dispositional empathy. J Pers, 62(3), 369-391. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1994.tb00302.x

Devlin HC, Zaki J, Ong DC, Gruber J (2014) Not As Good as You Think? Trait Positive Emotion

 Is Associated with Increased Self-Reported Empathy but Decreased Empathic Performance. PLOS ONE 9(10): e110470.

De Waal, F. B. (2008). Putting the altruism back into altruism: The evolution of empathy. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 279-300.

Fredrickson, Barbara L.  (1998). What Good Are Positive Emotions? Rev Gen Psychol. 1998 Sep; 2(3): 300–319. 

Han, J. L., & Pappas, T. N. (2018). A Review of Empathy, Its Importance, and Its Teaching in Surgical Training. J Surg Educ, 75(1), 88-94. doi:10.1016/j.jsurg.2017.06.035

Perry, J. (2021, February 19). Lecturette 5: Empathy. In PSY1535 – Psychology of Social Connection and Belonging: Spring 2021 [Lecture video].

Rodrigo, O. (2021). drivers license. On drivers license (single). Geffen Records, Interscope Records.

Schapira, R., Anger Elfenbein, H., Amichay-Setter, M., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Knafo-Noam, A. (2019). Shared Environment Effects on Children’s Emotion Recognition. Front Psychiatry, 10, 215. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00215

Zaki, J. (2014). Empathy: A motivated account. Psychological Bulletin, 140(6), 1608.

Zaki, J., & Cikara, M. (2015). Addressing empathic failures. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(6), 471-476.

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Monkey see, monkey do (and monkey’s sister does too)

February 13th, 2021 · 7 Comments


The other day, I was walking down the street and I spotted another person walking towards me up ahead. They got closer and closer, seeming to walk in the middle of the sidewalk, unable to pick a side. Finally, the moment of reckoning happens. We both step to the same side. Then immediately to the other side. All accompanied with some awkward laughs and muttered apologies. Hopefully it stops there. BUT it doesn’t always. It just keeps happening, and sometimes I worry I’ll be eternally stuck awkwardly mirroring some random stranger. 

Something sort of like this. I can’t imagine anyone really wanting to be caught in this situation, outside of a rom-com. It’s NEVER as cute as they make it look. 

This whole situation is incredibly uncomfortable but slightly better when it occurs between someone you know. Even better if it’s a sibling you have a good relationship with. Whenever this happens with my brother and I, we wrestle and pretend like our encounter never happened once the moment passes. Sibling relationships will probably be the longest relationship a person has (in general). So with this extraordinary relationship, does this change mimicry interactions, specifically when compared to strangers?

What I have deemed “the sidewalk shuffle” may be slightly less awkward between friends when compared to strangers. Interactions between strangers are just that. Strange. But imitation and mimicry can actually make some interactions better. Mimicry is much more common than the average person probably thinks and makes these interactions smoother and can lead to increased feelings of affiliation (Leander et al., 2012). Mimicry tends not to happen to the same extent with strangers than with friends or closer acquaintances (Yabar, et al., 2006). People also feel inappropriate levels of mimicry when meeting people for the first time are off-putting, whether it is over-imitating or under-imitating (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). Imitation and the “correct” amount are very context dependent. For example, being a part of an in-group, like both participants being Christian, can lead to increased mimicry and participants generally reporting a greater liking for the other in lab settings (Yabar, et al., 2006). 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, belonging to an outgroup (not quite dislike, just different) has been shown to actually decrease imitation in lab settings and may derive from an attempt to further distance themselves from those in the outgroup (Yabar et al., 2006).

Liking or disliking someone seems to have a very big impact on the amount of mimicry occurring in social interactions. With that in mind, the sometimes-complicated sibling relationships and mimicry are on a very different level. 


Siblings [Ellie]

Siblings are weird. There aren’t many people in the world that we can go from loving to hating (while also still loving) and back again in the span of about three seconds. As someone with six siblings, I have plenty of firsthand experience with the treasured and often complicated relationships involved with having brothers and sisters.

The concept of imitation takes on a different role with siblings than it does with others. As previously mentioned, social mimicry can be used as a technique in affiliating with others and determining, or trying to increase one’s own, likability (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). We know most siblings have the tendency to imitate each other. Seriously, what parent hasn’t witnessed a meltdown or two that starts with “SHE’S COPYING ME!”? With siblings, however, there’s an additional influence that comes into play.

Studies have shown that siblings play a significant role in the social and cognitive development of infants and toddlers (Howe & Recchia, 2014). Importantly, kids learn a lot from their brothers and sisters by watching them and observing how they move about in the world (Barr & Hayne, 2003). I learned a ton from my sister growing up, however it wasn’t necessarily because she was an expert teacher. I watched her dance and learned to love dancing; I saw her helping our parents cook dinner and I wanted to help as well. My older sister had this powerful influence on me by being a relatable person whom I felt comfortable imitating, and consequently learning from. 

But how much of an influence can imitating siblings really have on development? It’s actually quite significant. Because infants show the ability to imitate at as early as six months of age (Collie & Hayne, 2003), older siblings are some of the first teachers in infants’ lives. The infants aren’t just learning unrelated skills via mimicry, though; they’re also perfecting the art of imitation itself. One study showed that children with brothers and sisters are better at imitating than those without. In the study, children with siblings had the tendency to observe and copy the behaviors of others without instruction more than only children did (Barr & Hayne, 2003). 

So, children with siblings are better imitators, why does this matter? The link between mimicry and affiliation indicates that good imitators would be better at creating connections with others and avoiding the off-putting nature of over and under imitation. In fact, infants who are strong imitators are known to be stronger social communicators, especially in terms of language understanding (Hanika & Boyer, 2019). Having infants develop this skill early on sets them up for success in social situations in the future.

Perfecting the social art that is imitation can have various benefits outside of increasing your winning percentage in Simon Says. Mimicry is vital in many different social interactions, and people have an intuitive sense of how much they like someone which is linked, at least somewhat, to imitation levels (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). Mimicry with strangers and acquaintances is strongly studied in this affiliative context, but it takes on a strong role in the development of young children with siblings. Imitation for those children is a powerful learning mechanism, that teaches not only new motor skills but also social skills, like mimicry itself. With all of that said, I guess I should probably reach out to my sister and thank her for being there for me to copy all those years….



Awkward Encounter | The Amazing World of Gumball | Cartoon Network. (2016). YoutubeBarr, Rachel, & Hayne, Harlene. (2003). It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know: Older siblings facilitate imitation during infancy. International Journal of Early Years Education,11(1), 7-21. Collie, Rachael, & Hayne, Harlene. (1999). Deferred imitation by 6‐ and 9‐month‐old Infants: More evidence for declarative memory. Developmental Psychobiology, 35(2), 83-90.

Hanika, Leslie, & Boyer, Wanda. (2019) Imitation and Social Communication in Infants. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47(5), 615–626. Howe, Nina, & Recchia, Holly. (2014). Sibling Relations and Their Impact on Children’s Development. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, 1-8. Lakin, J. L., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Using Nonconscious Behavioral Mimicry to Create Affiliation and Rapport. Psychological Science, 14(4), 334–339. Leander, N. P., Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (2012). You Give Me the Chills: Embodied Reactions to Inappropriate Amounts of Behavioral Mimicry. Psychological Science, 23(7), 772–779. Yabar, Y., Johnston, L., Miles, L., & Peace, V. (2006). Implicit Behavioral Mimicry: Investigating the Impact of Group Membership. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 30(3), 97–113.…

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I had a funny title in mind, but I lost it

November 21st, 2020 · 13 Comments

Loss by Patrick Adolphus

It was no surprise last year when Post Malone’s single “Goodbyes” hit #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Besides the satisfying melody and those coveted vocals, the relatable lyrics of the song spoke to a lot of us. As a matter of fact, there is a long history of such songs like *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” and Clay Walker’s “Like We Never Said Goodbye” reaching commercial success, disproportionate success. After all, break ups are not all that common of an occurrence relative to all of the other things going on in our lives, so why is it that they are so well represented in pop culture? If you think about it, more relationships are formed than ended since people need to start them in order for them to end in the first place. Not to mention, not all relationships end (until death does us part), so why are there not as many songs about finding yourself in a new relationship? Why are we so preoccupied with the loss of relationships?

The answer may lie in a couple of biases we have. If I offered you a wager in which you could win $100 or lose $100, you probably would not take me up on it. This is because people are loss aversive, i.e. “losses loom larger than gains.” In objective terms, you are either winning or losing the same amount, but subjectively there is more pain associated with losing than pleasure associated with winning (Brenner, et al, 2007). This could translate to a few things. First of all, you could win something or lose something, but losing is way worse, so that may be why song writers are more apt to write songs about losing a relationship than gaining one since it is the more emotionally salient event. Second of all, this may be part of the reason why most people do not want to risk losing their relationship in pursuit of another and focus on holding on instead of forgetting the old and chasing the new.

Now, imagine I gave you either a chocolate bar or a mug, but then I offered to trade items with you. Chances are you would not accept the deal. If we held no bias with respect to the items, we would expect a 50% chance of this happening, but, in reality, the odds are actually 9 to 1. This could be chocked up to what is known as the “endowment effect.” There is not much inherently better about either item. You just happen to already possess one. People prefer to hold on to what they already have (Brenner, et al, 2007), which makes it ever more painful when they have to give it up. If you have a relationship, more likely than not, you want to hold on to it, so when it is taken away from you, the loss is going to hurt. The reason might be as simple as the relationship being the status quo.

Obviously, we are emotional social creatures even though the economists among us may not want to admit it, but the first step to solving a problem is understanding the problem and the emotions that come with it, so it is important to keep these biases in mind when facing the loss of a relationship. It is important to determine whether a relationship is actually worth pursuing. We get caught in emotional storms where the winds may sound like a resounding “YES!!”, but the honest answer is often “no, I am falling prey to my biases.” Unfortunately, the more involved your relationship was, the harder it will be to weather this storm. There is a positive correlation between distress and how much of your self-concept is defined by the relationship (Smith & Cohen, 1993).

When you recognize that the loss of a particular relationship is not necessarily as bad as it feels or maybe even a good thing, you can work on coping with the loss instead of clenching so hard. If you find yourself reeling from a breakup, you should consider keeping a journal or diary to express how you are feeling about the separation. One study recruited undergrads who had recently experienced a breakup in which the experimental group was tasked with writing expressively about their breakup, whereas the control group was tasked with writing about an impersonal topic in a non-emotional manner. The control group was found to not only have higher levels of depressive symptoms like fatigue and tension, but also symptoms of upper respiratory illness (suggesting how important social connections are for our physical wellbeing!). Such symptoms were not found in the experimental group and they also reported lower levels of intrusive thoughts and avoidance (Lepore & Greenberg, 2002).

For all those hopeless romantics out there not ready to give up and willing to fight until the very end, rest assured that this is also the best way forward for you. The experimental group had a higher likelihood of reuniting with their exes (Lepore & Greenberg, 2002).

This tried and trusted method also reaches far beyond the confines of romantic relationships. Keeping a diary/journal can help deal with all sorts of traumas ranging from the death of a classmate (Margola, et al, 2010) to the loss of a job (Spera, Buherfeind, & Pennebaker, 1994). Marcus Aurelius endorsed it two thousand years ago when he wrote his Meditations and I endorse it now when you decide to write your very own meditations!



Brenner, L., Rottenstreich, Y., Sood, S., & Bilgin, B. (2007). On the psychology of loss aversion: Possession, valence, and reversals of the endowment effect. Journal of Consumer Research34(3), 369-376.

Lepore, S. J., & Greenberg, M. A. (2002). Mending broken hearts: Effects of expressive writing on mood, cognitive processing, social adjustment and health following a relationship breakup. Psychology and Health17(5), 547-560.

Margola, D., Facchin, F., Molgora, S., & Revenson, T. A. (2010). Cognitive and emotional processing through writing among adolescents who experienced the death of a classmate. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy2(3), 250.

Smith, H. S., & Cohen, L. H. (1993). Self-complexity and reactions to a relationship breakup. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology12(4), 367-384.

Spera, S. P., Buhrfeind, E. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of management journal37(3), 722-733.

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Dear QuarantineCrew

November 20th, 2020 · 10 Comments

This week on HeretoHelp we will be discussing all things ~quarantine~ so send us any questions or comments about your quarantine experiences, the bad or the good!

 We’re here to help 😄



Dear QuarantineCrew,

I’m a 20-year-old college student, struggling to live at home with sole exposure to my family and the occasional elderly neighbor. I’ve tried texting, facetiming and having Zoom happy hours with friends, but conversation always feels forced and no one wants more time on Zoom outside of what’s required for school or work. All I want is just to BE with my friends and not have to PLAN when we’re going to talk next. It’s so hard!! Is this normal? How can I make these Zoom interactions more fulfilling?

Sincerely, Feeling Zoom-ed Out


Dear Zoom-ed Out,

Ooooh how I feel you. Quarantine certainly has not made it easy on us as we try to maintain our friendships. Though technology is our means to stay connected with people who are physically distant from us, virtual social interactions are more distancing than in-person interactions (Waytz & Gray, 2018). Waytz and Gray (2018) conducted a literature review on the interaction between online technologies and empathy, emotional intelligence, perspective taking, and emotion recognition. They discuss a longitudinal study that investigated the relationship between online technology and sociality in Dutch adolescents through self-report measures (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016). They found that social media use and online communication can in fact boost empathic processes (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016) – but only if it is used to supplement already existing off-line communication (Waytz & Gray, 2018). As we’ve come to realize, online communication cannot be used as a solid substitute for face-to-face interaction (Waytz & Gray, 2018). Though this sounds bleak, don’t fret, Zoom-ed Out! There are ways to enhance online communication and make it more meaningful. In addition to the weekly breakfast/happy hour Zoom dates with friends, one thing I started at the beginning of Quarantine was weekly Zoom yoga classes with friends. Every Sunday, I schedule an hour block with two of my friends to do a CorePower online class. All it takes is for someone to share her screen and we do the class together, and then re-hash everything that happened to us during the week. I find that doing something active together makes it something fun to look forward to, and since yoga is “exercise” it makes it easier to block out that hour on the schedule, even if half of it is spent catching up. If it’s a hard yoga class one day, we’ll all be struggling on screen together and then commiserating about it afterward – enduring this hardship together serves as a good ice breaker so the conversation doesn’t feel forced. It’s fun to crack jokes and laugh through the poses that we’re all bad at, so it feels like I have a friend by my side, toughing it out with me. However, I get it if you’d rather not practice your downward dogs weekly. In that case, my suggestion for you is to schedule some sort of weekly activity with your friends so that even if it’s over Zoom, you’re not spending the entire time watching the screen. You could try cooking, baking, or making cocktails together – the world is your oyster! Anything goes in this day and age – as long as it’s virtual!! Hopefully the days of Quarantine are becoming more limited, but in the meantime, try being active on Zoom and see how that helps 🙂

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Dear QuarantineCrew,

Being stuck in quarantine has caused my anxiety levels to reach record-breaking highs. I have my ups and downs, but I cannot seem to manage it – I feel as if I have no control and not knowing what could happen in the future just makes it worse. Any advice on dealing with this feeling?  Especially since we have no idea what is still to come.

Sincerely, Get Me Off This Roller Coaster


Dear Roller Coaster,

I don’t know anyone right now that has not felt this. I think it’s safe to say we have all had at least one moment where we have not felt in control and like everything was not okay. Any sort of plans you make always seem to be thrown out the window and, to make things worse, we are restricted to our homes.

Berinato (2020) discussed that this anxiety and feeling of uncertainty is a form of grief known as anticipatory grief. This means, as you mention, that there is this feeling that just washes over us when we are uncertain about what the future holds.

But, thankfully there are some things that you can do to calm and manage these feelings. Your goal, which can be easier said than done, is to find a balance between your thoughts that cause that feeling (Berinato, 2020). Instead of letting our minds spin out of control, we need to learn to let go of what we cannot control and live in the present moment (Berinato, 2020). So, instead of stressing about what the other person in the shop is doing and if they have COVID – focus on what you can control. Keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.

We need to learn to accept that there are many things during this quarantine period that we do not have control over and in doing so we can find some control through acceptance (Berinato, 2020). We need to learn to feel such feelings, accept them and understand that it is okay to feel this way as we are the first to experience quarantine and COVID.

We could also see this quarantine period as an opportunity to show a little more empathy towards each other. We need to understand that we are not the only ones feeling this overwhelming anxiety and grief. One way to do this ~safely~ is by using social media. We all know it can be a platform for negativity, but it is also one for positivity. Waytz & Gray, (2018) paper found that social media can be used to show prosocial behaviors and can enhance our social interactions by allowing us to form deep interpersonal connections. We can use social media to safely build empathy for one another. So, when you are online, purposefully reach out to someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while. Let them know you support them and here to chat. Another helpful resource is The war against kindness. This resource will teach you how to “build your own empathy gym” and has 5 challenges that allow you to practice showing kindness and empathy. Challenge 4 specifically speaks to using social media, but I would challenge you to try them all out.

Hopefully, this advice was helpful to you. Please let us know how these challenges go if you choose to try them out. Take back control and be present in the moment.

Sending virtual hugs and support

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Dear QuarantineCrew,

I used to have my childhood friends, until last year, when we each moved to different cities for either school or work. And since then, we’ve just grown out of touch. Personally, I moved by myself across the country to Maine for school. I’m a pretty introverted person, so it takes me a while to make new friends. At school, there were a couple people who I said hi to and chatted with as we bumped into each other in the hallways or in the dining hall. I was happy and thought I was starting to build deeper friendships. Then COVID forced me to go back home and the people I sort of knew have stopped calling. I’m just struggling and feeling really lonely, it feels like I’m all by myself without any friends (even though I interact with my family and classmates on a daily basis).

Sincerely, Socially Distant Beyond Six Feet


Dear Socially Distant,

Feeling like you’re alone and without a support system is really difficult. It’s difficult under normal circumstances, but understandably even more so now, when there are so many new stressors and fewer opportunities to find friends. Moreover, it makes sense that you feel lonely despite being around people at home. In fact, the quantity of social interactions or the number of people in your network may not correlate with how lonely you feel. Only you can judge how lonely you are. Though it’s difficult emotionally, the effects of loneliness are deeper than that. Loneliness affects our physical health and our quality of life in every way. It can even change your gene expression! In particular, genes involved in suppressing inflammatory chronic diseases may be underexpressed (have a smaller effect), and genes that increase inflammation may be overexpressed (have a larger effect) (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009). So, first of all, acknowledge that things are difficult, it’s normal, and it makes scientific sense. Loneliness affects much more than your mood.

While you may be longing for deep interactions with close friends to not feel lonely, Sandstrom and Dunn (2014) found that interacting with many, more shallow acquaintances, termed “weak ties”, is also really important to boosting your well-being. So, try starting up a conversation with people in your classes even if you don’t consider them a close friend or not. Those weak-tie conversations will make you feel good!

Another strategy you can try is being nostalgic. Nostalgia is something our brain uses to cope with loneliness. Zhou et al. (2008) found that nostalgia can increase perceived levels of social support and strengthen mental health. So, look through your old photos or have your grade school lunch again. If being nostalgic isn’t for you, that’s ok too. I know that, personally, sometimes nostalgia can make me more sad for what has been lost. If you’ve felt that way, I’ve found that reminiscing about the past can help remind me that I’ve gotten through challenges before, and that I can get through them again. In this case, reminiscing about the past can help me realize that I’ve gotten through stressful times before and I’ve also made friends in new places before. So, what’s different now? Nothing 🙂 

Finally, consider reaching out to past friends. Personally, what prevents me from talking to old connections is that I feel bad that I haven’t texted them in years. But, just because you may not have talked to them in years doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to hear from you. So, send them a quick “Hi! How are you?” text and see where it takes you! 

I’m sorry there isn’t a silver lining here; I wish there was. There will be an end to this pandemic. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and do what you need to do. We believe in your strength and resilience.

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Berinato, S. (2020, March 23). That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. Harvard Business Review. 

Cacioppo J.T. & Hawkley L.C. (2009). Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 447–454.

Cat Lazy GIF – Tenor GIF Keyboard – Bring Personality To Your Conversations | Say more with Tenor. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

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Paper Throwing Sheldon GIF – ThrowingPapers ImDone Nope—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

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Quarantine Got Me Like Bored GIF – QuarantineGotMeLike Bored HappyMonday—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Quarantine Isolation GIF – Quarantine Isolation Jamming—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: The surprising power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910-922.

Season 3 Ashley | GIF by Bachelor in Paradise – Find & Share on GIPHY (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Sheldon Tbbt GIF – Sheldon Tbbt PaperBag—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

This Is Fine Anxiety GIF – ThisIsFine Anxiety Calm—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Toy Story Dinosaur GIF – ToyStory Dinosaur Uncertainty—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Vossen, H.G.M, & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 118-124.

Walter White Breaking Bad GIF – WalterWhite BreakingBad Chemist—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Waytz, A., & Gray, K. (2018). Does online technology make us more or less sociable? A preliminary review and call for research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(4), 473-491.

Yoga Lesson Fail GIF – Tenor GIF Keyboard – Bring Personality To Your Conversations | Say more with Tenor. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., & Gao, D. G. (2008). Counteracting loneliness: On the restorative function of nostalgia. Psychological Science, 19(10), 1023-1029.

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The 1170 Words(ish) That Lead to Love

October 24th, 2020 · 5 Comments

Let’s go back in time for a moment: it’s your freshman year. You’re chilling in your tiny common room on a Friday night when your friends tell you there’s a crazy good party happening in the Pfoho Igloo (despite knowing that nothing “good” happens in the Pfoho Igloo…but oh well). You make the trek over to the Quad, and have a fun night of dancing, hanging out with friends, and feeling absurdly sweaty. Suddenly, you make eye contact with someone across the crowded room (*gasp*) – you try to make your move but oh no! You’ve forgotten that the floors are (literally) drenched in sweat! You fall to the floor, and the moment is ruined. Off you and your friends run to your next (probably sweaty) destination. 

Despite honestly comical encounters like the one we forced you to relive above, now that we find ourselves sitting in our childhood bedrooms, swiping on Tinder when we’re supposed to be watching a lecture, and dreaming of the last time we had any sort of human contact can definitely leave anyone feeling nostalgic for a simpler time. And even in “normal” times, it can feel like you’re constantly in uncharted waters when trying to find (and keep!) a potential relationship. So how do we spark and maintain these romantic connections according to the ~literature~? How can we translate this into our actual normal lives, especially as college students? And how on EARTH do we keep that going now that we’re online? You wouldn’t know it by looking at my love life (disclaimer: this is Rachel, I’m not about to throw James under the bus with my self-deprecating joke), but we’ve got the #hot #tips for all of you lonely (and not so lonely!) readers. 

Rachel: ~Creating That ~Spark~

As we saw in class, any good conversation about forming new romantic connections has to start with thinking about our own dealmakers and dealbreakers. What are the qualities and ~vibes~ that make you interested in someone in the first place? What are the things that send you running the moment you discover them? Even just this exercise of stepping back and reflecting on what pulls you toward or pushes you away from certain people shows one of the biggest parts of sparking new romantic connections — theory of mind and perspective-taking (Ramenzi et al, 2020). By taking the time to understand yourself and a potential partner, you can both forge stronger social bonds and avoid negative ones, like when you try to flirt with someone who isn’t into you (Bohns & DeVincent, 2019). As we’ve seen time and time again, this skill is an essential one for creating those social connections we all crave, both for friendships and romantic relationships. 

So you’ve done plenty of hardcore reflection, you’ve read all the papers, and now it’s time to apply it to your own life. Easy, right? Unfortunately… probably not. In Actual Real Life™, you can’t necessarily just go walk up to someone and start asking them about the last time they cried in front of another person. So how do we go about actually applying what we’ve learned here into our daily lives, especially in a Zoom world? 

First off, as we’ve learned, proximity and familiarity have a LOT to do with forming connections, both romantic and platonic. While before that might have meant living in the same dorm or going to the same party in the Igloo, there are still plenty of chances to recreate that online. Maybe take inspiration from Moreland and Beach’s study on familiarity and attraction to actually turn on your camera for once in that one giant lecture class (Moreland & Beach, 1992). Or, you could figure out their social media habits and both be “active” on Facebook at the same time (basically the digital version of proximity?). If all else fails, Zoom now lets you rearrange the screens in the order of your choice, so at least you can pretend to have some proximity to them! 

Beyond proximity and familiarity, communication and self-disclosure are also two essential ingredients to creating that perfect romance spark that’s still possible in today’s virtual world. It might be strange at first (especially if this is someone you’ve never *actually* met in person), but being willing to be vulnerable in your conversations with another person (whether on Zoom, over text, or in person) can go a long way (Hall, 2019). And above all, resist the urge to ghost! You might not be used to this much social interaction after hiding indoors for six months, but steady and engaging communication really can make the difference between a ~potential flame~ actually becoming a spark, or just burning out. Now go forth and find that person of your dreams, young grasshopper<3

James: Maintaining Romantic Relationships

Now, once you spark a connection with the person of your dreams, what do you do next? Initiating the connection is the first step, but much more goes into fostering a healthy and mutually beneficial romantic relationship.  As we learned in blog posts surrounding friendships, in order for a relationship to blossom into something special, reciprocation is essential.  This means that each member of a relationship must be putting in equal effort to make the relationship flourish.  Basically, if you get lazy and begin to neglect your partner, you can expect long nights filled with sorrow, and way too much ice cream.

One of the major factors in maintaining a strong romantic relationship is to practice gratitude and appreciation (Gordon et al, 2012).  As we talked about before, reciprocation is important, but why?  Most of us can recall memories in which we worked very hard to please another person, but then received no reciprocation or gratitude from them in return.  Not only is this a defeating feeling, but this lack of appreciation for your efforts can also deter you from trying to please this person again because of the fear of rejection.  On the other hand, research suggests that showing gratitude to your partner can lead to more appreciative behavior in the future.  Therefore, the simple action of expressing gratitude to your partner and appreciating the little efforts that they put in on a consistent basis can promote a healthier and more reciprocal relationship. Remember ladies and gentlemen, if you truly care about a particular person, it is imperative to diligently show your gratitude and appreciation for them on a consistent basis.  These behaviors will carry a relationship beyond the initial spark, and strengthen romantic bonds.

There are really two phases of romantic relationships, initiation and maintenance. Simple, right? Wrong! We are not trying to understate the difficulty in finding and maintaining romantic relationships (we understand, times are tough), but we are attempting to relay some concise insight from scientific research about behaviors that may promote healthy relationships. So if you’re like us and struggling in the romantic department, try using some of this information to lock down that special someone just in time for (virtual) cuffing season. Godspeed, friends.

Much love (hopefully),

Rachel & James



Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2019). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more difficult than suitors realize. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(8), 1102-1110.

Byrne, D., Clore, G. L., & Smeaton, G. (1986). The attraction hypothesis: Do similar attitudes affect anything? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1167–1170. 

Friends – Spongebob Rainbow. Google Search.

Gordon, A.M., Impett, E.A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 257-274.

Hall, J.A. (2019). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(4), 1278-1296. 

Jones, D. (2015, January 9). The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.

Moreland, R. L., & Beach, S. R. (1992). Exposure effects in the classroom: The development of affinity among students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28(3), 255–276. 

Movie Needs. (2018, December 7). Dun Dun Dunnn sound effect [Video]. YouTube.

Ramezani, A., Ghamari, M., Jafari, A., & Aghdam, G. F. (2020). The effectiveness of a theory of mind training program in promoting empathy between married couples. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 19(1), 1-25.

Scooby Doo Halloween GIF (2020). Giphy. Retrieved 23 October 2020, from

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(How) To be, or not to be (in a relationship)

October 24th, 2020 · 4 Comments

Have you ever gone on Instagram or Facebook on Valentine’s Day (while you yourself were single) and had your feelings hurt by the fact that everyone and their mom seems to be in a relationship? Pls it can’t be just me. Or maybe you’ve had your entire extended family grill you at Thanksgiving dinner about whether you got a bae, and if not, why you don’t got a bae? If so, I bet (after wishing to be a smol amoeba floating away into the abyss), you’ve at least asked yourself “why?” Why do we care ~SO MUCH~ about being in relationships? How does one,,, relationship? And how do you do it well (or not so well)? Read and learn, young grasshopper, read and learn.

– • – • – • –

Why do we fall in love?: (reason #3512458045 why humans are weird) -Gaby

WHAT’S UP GUYS welcome to your very own crash course on Human Monogamy™:

A long



long time ago (~5-7 million years ago, to be exact-ish), human apes would diverge from our last common ancestor (LCA) shared with bonobos and chimpanzees (Stoneking, 2008, pp. S46-S47). And so began the Story of Us.

For context, the LCA looked and behaved NOTHING like modern humans and rather is hypothesized by many in the field (including Harvard’s very own Dr. Daniel Lieberman) to have more closely resembled chimpanzees (Lieberman, 2013). As such, in our initial splitting off from African apes it was easiest to keep a lot of key chimp-like characteristics, which meant that ancient humans had a very, very spicy and promiscuous mating structure in which both males and females had multiple mates. This. Makes. Sense. For males→ you maximize the amount of offspring while minimizing responsibility to care for each one, essentially nullifying paternal load. For females → you maximize the diversity of male genetic contribution to your offspring, thereby increasing your chances of producing evolutionarily fit babies. Boom. You’ve now got selection wrapped around your finger.

“Unless???” –our ultra-social human nature.

As it turns out, somewhere along the course of our evolutionary history, humans started to live longer than the average chimp. As such, we could spend a longer time developing during childhood, giving us time to grow bigger brains and bodies (Chapis, 2017). Bigger brains and bodies required a whole lot more energy though, which made baby-making a pretty expensive investment given heightened parental responsibility to supply so much food (energy) and resources for each kid. Moms no longer wanted so many mates to keep track of due to paternal uncertainty (males are more likely to invest in their offspring if they are sure that it’s his genetic material he’s protecting), and Dads now wanted to keep it to one mate so as to minimize paternal cost and maximize investment to a select group of offspring. Who would’ve thought big headed babies could bring people together ugh <3

And so, just like our brains evolved to prefer to be in groups and care about what others think, we also evolved psychological “fail-safes” (i.e. norm psychology, jealousy, oxytocin release that gives you those warm fuzzy feelings when you’re around your partner) to make sure that we engage in monogamous relationships through the universal acceptance of social constructs such as dating and marriage and #cuffingszn. 

P.S. Did you know! Though not as ~unique~ as it is in humans, pair bonding can also be found in other species! My all-time favorite example is of the Titi monkeys, who intertwine their tails together when sitting next to each other or when sleeping :’)) 


How do we stay in love?: Ingredients for a long-lasting relationship -Suyeon

So now that you know why we fall in love, let’s talk about how we stay in love— starting with the fact that dating someone does not mean that that person will stay with you forever. You may find out that you are not compatible with each other or have conflicts so often that lead you to think about breaking up with your partner. Although I love my boyfriend, I sometimes give up everything and declare freedom when we have conflicts over and over.  

Then the question is, how do we maintain our romantic relationships? There are two important ingredients that could enable your relationship to last long as you want: Perceived understanding and gratitude. According to Gordon and Chen (2016) conflict becomes detrimental only when there is an absence of perceived understanding between two partners. Once your partner seems to understand what you are upset about, solving a conflict becomes an easy problem. Surely, it is hard to try to understand another person’s mind when I am upset—which is why conflicts, in most cases, are detrimental. One quick solution I suggest is to sleep! Whenever a conflict arises, don’t try to argue with your partner at the moment—I would sleep and think about what I would say after I wake up. It becomes much easier to understand from the other’s perspective after you sleep tight. 

Another ingredient for a long-lasting relationship is gratitude. Gordon et al. (2012) demonstrate that people who feel they are appreciated by their partner tend to feel more gratitude towards their partner. Indeed, feeling appreciated could be a reward in a relationship. We feel valued as our partners express gratitude towards us. Therefore, feeling appreciated promotes desirable behaviors within humans since we perceive the feeling as a reward followed by those behaviors. We never get tired of hearing “Thank you”, right? 


Why is it so hard to say “no” ? – Anna

We’ve talked about what might make us fall in love and how to maintain that love, but what happens when a suitor makes unwanted advances & the person being pursued reluctantly accepts it? Has this ever happened to you? Coming from NYC, I can relate to these unwanted advances, where my responses are rarely made based on my own wants and desires, but rather on how I think the person talking to me will react. Let’s imagine someone approaches you in the subway and asks for your number. You look ahead and try not to make eye contact, but the more you ignore them, the more aggravated they become, and they begin to speak more loudly and get closer to you to elicit a reaction. You decide to look at them and smile, and tell them you have a significant other already, but you are flattered by their advance. All the while, you don’t have a significant other and you’re utterly disgusted by this person. Why sugarcoat it? 

Bohns and Devincent’s article “Rejecting Unwanted Advances Is More Difficult Than Suitors Realize” attribute this response to the fact that rejecting someone is fundamentally “awkward and uncomfortable” because of the egocentric dynamics at play (2019). A suitor is much more likely to underestimate their target’s discomfort in an advance, both because of rationalizations that might protect their ego & the tendency for targets to sugarcoat their rejections, such as by laughing it off or ignoring it rather than outright rejecting them. Revisiting the subway, you may have decided to lie about having a significant other out of fear or guilt. You know it’s easier to defend rejection when you have a significant other, so the rejection will seem as though you had no choice but to reject them, making it easier for the suitor to accept it without taking a huge hit to their ego. Even further, this sugarcoating may have been due to genuine fear of getting hurt or harassed by an aggravated suitor who’s ego might get easily bruised. 

Overall, we see two things going on. You, the target of the unwanted advance, are more aware of the other, what their intentions may be, and how they may react to rejection. Meanwhile, your suitor is less aware of your discomfort and is guided by their confidence that you’ll reciprocate. If this is the case, what should you do in cases of unwanted advances? As a psychologist, I’d say tell your suitor about the discomfort you feel, and let them get a better understanding of your feelings in the self-other model that could guide their actions. But, as a city girl, I’d say, smile, nod, and get the heck out of there. 

– • – • – • –

When it comes to love, you never know. Maybe the road to finding your soulmate will be completely by chance or an uphill battle of “not the ones”. We’re here to tell you not to sweat it too much, since there’s actually a lot of psychology behind why you fall for someone and why you might not. So, the next time you find yourself crushin’ hard on someone, just hoping that you don’t or that they don’t mess it up, relax a little bit! Have faith in yourself and the fact that it’s literally in our nature to gravitate towards others. Take a deep breath, read up on our do’s and don’ts on finding love, and the rest should be history 🙂


Anna, Gaby, & Suyeon 



Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2019). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more difficult than suitors realize. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(8), 1102-1110

Chapais, B. (2017). From Chimpanzee Society to Human Society: Bridging the Human Gap. Chimpanzees and human evolution (427-463). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Gordon, Amie M, & Chen, Serena. (2016). Do You Get Where I’m Coming From?: Perceived Understanding Buffers Against the Negative Impact of Conflict on Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 239-260.

Gordon, A.M., Impett, E.A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 257-274.

Lieberman, D.E. (2013). The Story of the Human Body. New York, Pantheon Books.
Stoneking, M. (2008). Human origins. EMBO Reports, 9(1S), S46-S50.

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8 Ways to Create a Stronger Relationship

October 24th, 2020 · 3 Comments


  1. Go to a workout class together. If you like to be active and get your sweat on, invite your significant other to come with you! This an amazing chance to show your partner how hard you’ve been working and what they’ve been missing this whole time. Not only will it be a fun activity; studies show that after doing an arousing activity with each other, couples felt more satisfied and in love with their significant other (Aron et al., 2000). I know I’ve been dying to get my boyfriend to an OrangeTheory fitness class with me.  Now that I know he’ll fall more in love with me after the class – I NEED to try it. Back to the point – who cares if you’re not a Soul Cycle or Barry’s Bootcamp guru – get moving with your partner and they’ll love you more than ever! I recommend trying an Instagram TV workout – it’s free and it can be done in the comfort of your home. Get up and get active!

      2. Write letters to each other. I know that it can be hard to write someone a letter. You might feel like you’re being sappy and maybe the idea of sharing your actual feelings about someone makes you cringe. However, studies show that people who feel more appreciated by their partners are more appreciative of them regularly (Gordon et al., 2012). Gordon et al. (2012) demonstrates how important it is to practice gratitude towards your partner, sharing findings that support how beneficial it is for maintaining a healthy, intimate bond. Now, I’m not telling you to do this every week, but setting a goal to do this once a year for Thanksgiving or a birthday can greatly improve your relationship. The person you love, deserves to know how much you appreciate them. It will make them feel good and lead to relationship benefits. There’s nothing wrong with telling someone you’re grateful for them – don’t be afraid

       3. Go on a double date. Maybe double dating doesn’t appeal to you. If you haven’t been on an orchestrated double date before, don’t feel bad. I haven’t either! But, I’m telling you, you have to go plan one right after you’re done reading this post because hanging out with other friends and couples can lead to benefits to your own relationship. You might be thinking, “I already feel like me and my partner don’t get enough alone time. Why would I purposely invite another couple and take away from our time together?!” Well!!! Studies show that couples felt closer to their partners after having an interaction with another couple (Slatcher, 2010). If you haven’t gone on a double date before, I challenge you to go on a date with another couple. The feeling of excitement that you had on your first date with your partner may be recreated when you go on a double date with another couple (Slatcher, 2010). While you might be hesitant, a double date can make you feel excited and closer to your partner than before. Try that new sushi restaurant, go bowling, take a morning walk, or maybe even carve pumpkins – with another couple, of course!




        4. Use “we-talk”. Words like “we” and “us” can be very powerful in showing interdependence on a romantic partner, emphasizing how they affect your thoughts and feelings, and highlighting a transition from being self-oriented to relationship oriented. Studies show couples who use more “we” and “us” are more likely to have healthy, positive relationship behaviors like being supportive during stressful times. Moreover, individuals in the “we” talk couples reported higher scores for mental and physical health and relationship satisfaction (Karen et al., 2019). In relationships, you are only part of the whole – show that you are thinking of your partner, and tell them with the power of “we”!

         5. Hug! (Or other stuff). Physical affection is super important in a relationship – not just sex. Holding hands, hugging, or just a warm touch can affect release hormones like oxytocin, which calms us and reduces stress. In an experiment where married couples had more physical contact, they exhibited lower blood pressure and positive effects on several stress sensitive systems (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2008). Physical affection can also improve your mood and increase the likelihood of more physical activity (Burleson et al. 2007). I know the whole PDA thing can be a lot, so just wait until you are in private and give your partner a kiss or hug. As it gets colder, don’t be afraid to grab a snuggly blanket and cuddle – matching pjs optional, kind of. 

         6. Give compliments. We all like getting compliments – being told we look nice, we are good at something, etc. But, in romantic relationships, compliments should be about both physical and non-physical qualities – telling someone they are pretty or sexy or have beautiful eyes is not enough. Meltzer and McNulty found that physical compliments and valuation was only associated with positive relationship satisfaction when it was paired with compliments about non-physical qualities, like interests, personality, or intelligence. Emphasizing what you like about your partner and going beyond the superficial, physical level can show a deeper understanding of their character (Meltzer and McNulty, 2014). Next time your partner does something nice, tell them how caring and kind they are. When they help you finish your annoying chem pset, compliment their brain. 




          7. Be a good listener. There’s a difference between hearing and listening. All too often your partner may complain that they do not feel heard. Heck, you might not feel heard either! But hearing happens naturally without a choice. What everyone really wants is someone to make the conscious effort of listening to what we say, internalizing our words, and taking on our perspective. A major hallmark of poor relationships is low cognitive and affective empathy. Luckily, research shows that we can work on this (Ramezani et al, 2020). Putting yourself in your partner’s shoes can go a long way in helping you understand what your partner may want or need and, more importantly, why? Everyone has heard the trope of the jerk boyfriend and crazy girlfriend, but rarely do people act without a motive, so instead of hearing something and jumping to conclusions, ask open questions to learn why your partner feels a certain way. Give them a chance to feel listened to.

         8. Stay in the moment. Regardless of whether you and your partner prefer to bar hop or stay at home for a little soirée, chances are your phones are coming with you. You look forward to this event and spending some quality time together, but little did you know that you were bringing the rest of the world with you. I often find myself in a room full of others, but they are only there in person because their spirit is with that guy they have not seen since high school on Facebook. There is reason to believe that the number of social media accounts you keep up with and your level of technological addiction is negatively affecting your relationships (Abbasi, 2019). The next time you’re with your partner and find yourself staring at a screen, consider refocusing your attention onto the people around you in lieu of the people hundreds of miles away. And if you find yourself relegated to second place by a circuit board, consider gently reminding your partner that the people that matter most are right there with him or her in that moment.




Abbasi, Irum Saeed. “Social media and committed relationships: What factors make our romantic relationship vulnerable?.” Social Science Computer Review 37.3 (2019): 425-434.

Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared 

participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 273–284.

Burleson, M.H., Trevathan, W.R. & Todd, M. (2007). In the Mood for Love or Vice Versa? Exploring the Relations Among Sexual Activity, Physical Affection, Affect, and Stress in the Daily Lives of Mid-Aged Women. Arch Sex Behav 36, 357–368 Gordon, A. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: 

gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality 

and Social Psychology, 103(2), 257–274.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W. A., & Light, K. C. (2008) Influence of a “Warm Touch” Support Enhancement Intervention Among Married Couples on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Oxytocin, Alpha Amylase, and Cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(9), 976-985

Karan, A., Rosenthal, R., & Robbins, M. L. (2019). Meta-analytic evidence that we-talk predicts relationship and personal functioning in romantic couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(9), 2624–2651.

Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2014). “Tell me I’m sexy…and otherwise valuable:” Body Valuation and Relationship Satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 68–87.

Ramezani, A., Ghamari, M., Jafari, A., & Aghdam, G. F. (2020). The Effectiveness of a ToM Training Program in Promoting Empathy Between Married Couples. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 19(1), 1-25.

Slatcher, R. B. (2010). When Harry and Sally met Dick and Jane: Creating closeness between 

couples. Personal Relationships, 17(2), 279–297.

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6 Relationship Stages That Only College Students Will Understand (#3 Will Shock You!)

October 23rd, 2020 · 4 Comments

Let’s start off this post the way Prof. Perry started off the lecturette for this week: with music. Who listens to top music tracks?? College kids. What do college kids like?? Dancing, partying, having sex, listening to music, drinking and, well, other such substances. But mostly, ~romance~. What are pretty much all top 40 most popular songs about, going back to the 1960s?? Everything I just mentioned college kids like, but again, mostly ~~romance~~ (Christensen et al, 2018). This isn’t a coincidence. Most humans love, well, love. And Kat and I figured that since we’re all probably missing the spicy moments of meeting or crushing on a potential romantic partner on campus, we’d remind you (and ourselves) of the typical on campus love story. 

So, here are the 6 stages of a college romance. 💙


Stage 1: The Butterflies. 💚

You look at the top-right corner of your screen and 3 digits haunt you: 1:01 AM. You look at the bottom-left corner and breathe a sigh of resignation: 53 Words. Espresso in hand, you look around the quiet floor of Lamont Library and you see them. It seems like you see them everywhere, after all, you’re in two of the same classes. Here, they’re wearing jeans and a Patagonia sweater, but still manages to get your heart rate up and release butterflies in your stomach. You see their head buried in John Stuart Mill and start to wonder, maybe I should also find a Patagonia sweater (and no, unlike most Harvard students, you actually don’t have a kink for Patagonia fleeces) and read about liberty… That’ll make a good conversation topic.

Welcome to your crush! To you, they feel like they’re the one and the sole person you’re attracted to. But if you believe this is just a simple coincidence, there’s evidence that there is more going on. Moreland and Beach (1992) found that people are more attracted to people who they are more familiar with. Yes! Merely seeing someone more (you don’t even have to be interacting with them) might make you more attracted to them. But this isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t mean that you don’t truly like them, it’s simply your brain trying to protect you against the scary unknown. So, go ahead and try to impress them. But be careful, make sure to be yourself. Especially if your crush is a close friend or someone else who means a lot to you, it’s normal for your identity to shift to include a bit of them, but that overlap shouldn’t get too big. (more on that soon from Gracie!…)


Stage 2: The Question. 💚

You ironed your Patagonia fleece this morning before putting it on (just kidding, you don’t own an iron) and you read your philosophers. You’re ready for anything. In your mind, you run through all the pleasantries and brief conversations you had with them, more importantly, you run through all the ways to say the words “do you have any plans Friday night?” Then, the perfect opportunity comes. Just as you’re exiting Sanders Theatre, you see them. You walk over and they say hi to you. You’re feeling good, it’s time. “Hey, are you doing anything Friday night?”

Well done you! You’re on your way to success. But you might wonder, did you do the right thing to ask this question? An important thing to remember is that asking someone out, even if it seems like a simple question to you, might put your crush in an uncomfortable position. In fact, Bohns and DeVincent (2019) found that both men and women underestimate how tough it is to be asked out by someone when the feeling isn’t mutual. Certainly, do ask your crush out and who knows, your feelings may be reciprocated, But be aware of the context. If you’re in a professional relationship with this person, consider any power dynamics or simply make sure that you’re creating an environment of respect. Also, give your crush a way out if they’re indeed not interested, you might be putting more pressure on them to say ‘yes’ than you intend.


Stage 3: The First Night. 💚

That night you toss and turn in your bed. You’re excited, they agreed to have dinner with you on Friday!!! But you’re also nervous, what are you going to do? How are you going to get them to like you??? Exhausted from the day, you finally fall asleep. But the next morning, you open up your laptop and start searching….

What could you search for? Well, one thing that you might want to look at is the 36 Questions (Aron et al. 1997b). Sure, you can talk about anything and you don’t have to use all 36 questions, but don’t just talk about whether or not it’s Patagonia weather (it always is). Instead, be vulnerable. It’s hard to do so during the “first date,” but give it a shot. Take some time, brew some tea, and dim the lights. Sure, you don’t have to talk about your deepest and darkest secret, but ask meaningful questions, be human. Or maybe take some inspiration from a robot…


Stage 4: The Consistent “Thing.” 💙

Kat calls this stage the “putting 2 Twin XL beds together” stage, and yeah, that pretty much sums it up perfectly. Are we friends, are we friends with benefits? Are we not friends, but have benefits? Are we official, are we exclusive, am I monogamous, do I want to be tied down, am I having a relationship crisis?!?!? Who freaking knows, but at this point, you know you like this person. You wouldn’t be spending all this time together if you didn’t. Who even cares if you don’t have all the details figured out yet (the day WILL come when you have to tell them you aren’t all that into Patagonia), because you’re in this state of euphoria. Nothing about this person is sending you running (away, not towards them, to be clear), and this is good news. But why do we keep going back, wanting more of this person, and each day, falling harder??

This might have something to do with Aron & Aron Self-Expansion Theory (1997a), whereby we have a tendency to want to become very close and intimate with someone for a few distinct reasons. We want to expand our self-concept, and this can be done by essentially taking on a bit of another person and using that to help define ourselves. Additionally, we want to expand our group circles, and by coming close with someone else, we expand our circle of people to include that person’s as well. This helps us feel like we belong, and it’s progress towards the next step, making it official. 


Stage 5: Making it Official. 💙

[Midterm] seasons pass, the weather changes, the Patagonias remain, and the thing (that we don’t have labels for because it’s 2020 and labels are lame) that you’ve had with this person is going steady. But one thing is to remain: When is one of you going to pop THE question? 

Becoming official in a relationship seems (or feels) like a stamp of approval, an official seal, of belonging. And that’s what this class is all about right? Humans have a fundamental need for belonging (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), and becoming official with someone is like making a pact to provide each other with consistent love, nurturing, and enjoyment. Finally becoming official with another human who you have an intimate relationship with may not be the only belonging we need, but it’s definitely an exemplary feeling of belonging. Let me know if I’m out on too far of a limb here, but this also reminds me of the Pickett, Gardner, & Knowles (2004) article we read in Empathy week, which found that people who are craving belonging are more sensitive to different aspects of social cues such as vocal tone. Is this not us, on the edge of our seat, wondering when we will get our seal of approval??? Just a thought.  


Stage 6: The Married Couple. 💙

Honeymoon phase is over. You’ve been through all those awkward pubescent-like stages of forming a romantic relationship and now here you are, married. Well, not actually, but you know what I mean. You’re off the market, you’re #committed. Things are normal! There’s less nerves, this person is now your person, and at this point, there’s probably not much that your boo doesn’t know about you (minus maybe the terrible Patagonia truth). Routines have developed, and who knows, maybe you’ve even dropped the “L” word. 

A friendly reminder though. Your S.O. still can’t read your mind (no matter how cool they are) and they still need help interpreting your thoughts and feelings. Not going to recommend couple’s therapy to an undergrad couple because that seems, idk, too soon? However, there are a few things we can learn from couples who went through Theory of Mind training (lovingly referred to as “ToM.”) In this week’s reading, we learned that conscious effort, focus, and attention on developing ToM abilities in couples was a success. Steady couples who underwent an 8 week program that focused on developing skills associated with cognitive and emotional empathy, as well as perspective taking, showed significant improvements in all these in comparison to the control. In addition, couples who went through the ToM training program were better able to ascribe and be sensitive to their partner’s mental states and emotions (Ramezani et al, 2020). While this may seem like a lot of work, it suggests that in an intimate and romantic relationship, empathy, perspective-taking, and mind perception play a big role in the viability of a meaningful romantic relationship.  


And you lived happily ever after. The end. Unfortunately, our childhood dreams of fairytale love and miracles don’t always turn out to be true. But you can get close. Having read through all six stages of a relationship, you’re ready to love and be loved. But there’s one more thing we missed. In fact, if there’s only one thing you take away from reading this, it’s to have gratitude. It’ll make you happier and it’ll grow your relationship (Gordon et al. 2012). 💚


💙 – Gracie

💚 – Kat



Aron, A., & Aron, E. N. (1997a). Self-expansion motivation and including other in the self. In Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research and interventions, 2nd ed (pp. 251–270). John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997b). The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363–377.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.

Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2019). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more difficult than suitors realize. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(8), 1102-1110.

Christenson, P. G., de Haan-Rietdijk, S., Roberts, D. F., & ter Bogt, T. F. M. (2019). What has America been singing about? Trends in themes in the U.S. top-40 songs: 1960–2010. Psychology of Music, 47(2), 194–212.

Gordon, A. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), 257–274.

Moreland, R. L., & Beach, S. R. (1992). Exposure effects in the classroom: The development of affinity among students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28(3), 255–276.

Pickett, C. L., Gardner, W. L., & Knowles, M. (2004). Getting a Cue: The Need to Belong and Enhanced Sensitivity to Social Cues. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(9), 1095–1107.

Ramezani, A., Ghamari, M., Jafari, A., & Aghdam, G. F. (2020). The Effectiveness of a ToM Training Program in Promoting Intimacy between Married Couples. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 1–18.

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The Online & In-Person Friendship Survival Guide

October 18th, 2020 · 6 Comments

As eager freshmen we ran around campus finding new friends, congregating in the dining hall, hanging out in tiny common rooms, avoiding proctors and hiding drinks – it was easy to meet people and form these friendships. But now, we click between class links and our friends are little boxes on Zoom, hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Despite being in a pandemic, those friendships still remain, and someday we’ll be face to face again. So, we’re going to tell you why friendships are important and how to maintain friendships both in ~real life~ as well as during COVID. Now, we’re going to tell you how to leverage the building blocks from Unit I to remind you of what’s important in forming friendships, as well as help you and those friendships survive Zoom U.

Imitation — James

A bunch of tiny boxes assorted on a screen doesn’t exactly foster the best environment in which to make friends, but welcome to Zoom U 2020. Although our current situation is certainly not ideal, there are still many ways in which we can form and maintain strong friendships.

Science suggests that proximity is a major factor in the formation of friendships (Nahemow, & Lawton 1975).  Proximity to others often leads to self-disclosure as a result of familiarity. Alas, our college experience has been ripped from us, and most of us are no longer in proximity to… well, basically anyone.  But, not to worry, the proximity of our faces on a screen may be just enough to get us through this.

The first tip in our Zoom U Survival Guide is to understand imitation and mimicry. When Jen says that imitation is a building block of social connection, she ain’t kidding!  Many studies have been done showing that mimicry leads to more pleasant interactions and the formation of social bonds (Stel & Vonk, 2010).  With the pandemic limiting our social interactions, it is more important than ever to make the most out of the limited facetime, no pun intended, that we have with each other.  Although it may seem silly, imitation can still occur over Zoom! Facial expressions are amplified on Zoom, so use this to your advantage! In order to create social bonds, maybe try to mimic facial expressions with break-out room members, just don’t be weird about it. It may seem uncomfortable or awkward but according to a bunch of smart people, it really does work.

It is important to remember that mimicry often occurs subconsciously.  If you’re like me you can remember many times where you have either mimicked another’s behavior or been mimicked in a natural way and this imitation led to conversation, and yes a ~social bond~.  So, stop worrying! Although it may seem as if we are completely isolated, humans tend to have a way of figuring out the whole friendship thing.  Zoom will not beat us. But, keep reading because there are many other building blocks of social connection that can assist us in forming friendships.

Mind Perception — Christi

Mind perception is super important to connection and communication in friendships. In Ledbetter, Griffin, and Sparks’ word-game study, interpersonal mindfulness and theory of mind were strong predictors of friendships (Ledbetter et al., 2007). While it may be more difficult to infer others’ thoughts and emotions through a screen, your friendships are not doomed on Zoom.

The challenge of perspective taking – seeing what your friends are experiencing at home from behind your screen is nearly impossible. More than ever try to ask questions and be interested in the answers! Get context about where your friends are, what they have been up to, co-ruminate, and get all the deets.

Body language is still important and can help emulate the proximity you would have during a real life conversation. Show your friends that you are interested in what they have to say, and are actively listening and contributing to the conversation and the relationship. Eye contact is another way to connect with people. A study also found that virtual eye contact is just as important as real life eye contact, triggering autonomic arousal and other facial/emotional reactions (Hietanen et al., 2020). These emotional reactions can be cues for what our friends are thinking about and how they feel.

Videos on Zoom make us hyper-self-aware, constantly looking at our little box to see what we look like and how others see us. While it may make you anxious, try to avoid it – checking yourself out divides our attention and distracts us from the conversation at hand. People who looked at themselves more during video calls were less certain when recalling information about their partners (Miller et al, 2017). So keep your video on, look at your friends (not yourself!), and be engaged!

But we get it, zoom fatigue is REAL. At the end of a day of screen time it is so hard to engage in more interactions. Plus, scheduling time with people is hard, and it is so easy to drift off and check your email or be on your phone when talking to friends. But remember, your friends are so important and social connection is really fulfilling (you won’t regret catching up with friends every now and then, promise!). Even if it’s just a quick 10 minutes, give your full attention to your friends like you would in real life.

Empathy — Gracie

Last but not least in the friendship survival guide is… empathy. It’s 2020, and being emotionally available and woke is cool. So, I want to propose a way to use empathy in friendships, in whatever way they are taking form (@Zoom).

I think that the construct of empathy is a goal – not a default. Empathy doesn’t seem to be a one-trick pony, that we either use or do not use in socialization. Instead, I think that empathy is what happens when you learn to ~healthily~ balance multiple aspects of interacting with another person and their emotions in a meaningful way (hence the reason I called it a “construct”). Empathy in excess can lead to us constantly carrying someone else’s emotional baggage, which is no bueno for mental health. But without empathy, we might be unresponsive to others’ feelings, which can make us come off as cold, lame, or like we don’t care.

So somewhere in the middle of this mess is a great ratio of: acknowledging someone’s emotions (good or bad), recognizing that sometimes it isn’t your responsibility to help rectify someone’s emotions, all the while, remembering that they aren’t your emotions, and someone else’s problems don’t automatically become yours. This is what empathy is to me. So when you’re looking to make a friend, remember the difference between being emotionally “available” and emotionally “vulnerable.”

“Sure Gracie, but that’s easier said than done.”

I know. But in my experience with close relationships, the WRONG kind of empathy can act as a vicious cycle. A friend vents to you, you feel bad for them, you take on that friend’s emotions, and now you’re feeling down. And when you’re feeling down, you can’t offer the same healing powers to your friend that you might have been able to, had you been a little more emotionally resilient. Suddenly you can’t be the distraction or the good laugh, the cuddler or the “show them a good time”-er (LMK if you figured out how to cuddle via Zoom). A finding in this week’s paper might show evidence of this – when assessing what aspects of interpersonal mindfulness could act as mediators for influencing friendship quality, perspective-taking was a significant explanatory mediator, but empathy (defined as literally taking on one’s emotions) was not (Pratscher et al, 2018). This might mean that a friendship does well  with empathy in moderation. Too much, and you’re a vibe killer, always harshing the mellow. Too little, and you’re a jerk whose stuck in the early 2000s, when not caring was cool.


While we might have thrown a lot of stuff at you, if you take one thing from this post, it’s this: while consciously thinking about skills like imitation, mind perception, or empathy might certainly help you be engaged in socialization, when you’re making friends, it’s also important to follow your heart (so much cheese I know I’m SORRY – Gracie). But seriously, you’ll have that gut feeling when a new relationship is going well, is healthy, and can become really meaningful (if it isn’t already). And the right people will bring the best out of you. Friendship is an organic process, and life has a funny way of bringing people together. So don’t give up on the whole online interactions thing yet!



James, Christi, & Gracie




Hietanen, JO, Peltola, MJ, Hietanen, JK. Psychophysiological responses to eye contact in a live interaction and in video call. Psychophysiology. 2020; 57:e13587.


Ledbetter, A.M., Griffin, E. and Sparks, G.G. (2007), Forecasting “friends forever”: A longitudinal investigation of sustained closeness between best friends. Personal Relationships, 14: 343-350. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2007.00158.x


Matthew K. Miller, Regan L. Mandryk, Max V. Birk, Ansgar E. Depping, and Tushita Patel. 2017. Through the Looking Glass: The Effects of Feedback on Self-Awareness and Conversational Behaviour during Video Chat. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 5271–5283. DOI:


Nahemow, L., & Lawton, M. P. (1975). Similarity and propinquity in friendship formation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(2), 205–213.…


Pratscher, S. D., Rose, A. J., Markovitz, L., & Bettencourt (2018). Interpersonal mindfulness: Investigating mindfulness in interpersonal interactions, co-rumination, and friendship quality. Mindfulness, 9(4), 1206-1215.


Stel, M., & Vonk, R. (2010). Mimicry in social interaction: Benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction. British Journal of Psychology, 101(2), 311-323.

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