Psychology of Social Connection

The Good vs Bad of Mind Perception, Kara Xie and Orion Vigil

February 19th, 2022 · 15 Comments

Understanding someone else’s mind sounds extremely positive and is a great way to foster connections. However, what happens when understanding someone else’s mind leads to negative outcomes such as caring less about others? Here we delve into both sides of the coin for mind perception – the good and the bad. 

Components of mind perception that we will discuss below include mind detection, theory of mind, humanization, and dehumanization. Mind detection includes the identification of another entity with a mind, whereas theory of mind is the ability to infer the thoughts, feelings, desires of other people (Epley & Waytz, 2010). Humanization is attributing basic human qualities to others (Haslam, 2006) whereas dehumanization is the failure to attribute basic human qualities to others (Epley & Waytz, 2012) .

Kara: The Good

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

This is a line I repeat to my twin sister probably twice a day. Feeling so connected with someone else’s mind has never felt easier. Inferring thoughts and feelings of someone I grew up with, share the same DNA with, and understand so well is something I consider to be a great success of mind perception in my personal life. 

In the Wheatley reading and in class, we learned how easy it is to recognize a face. As humans, we overstate the importance of the face as a stimulus; they ultimately serve as facades of other’s minds (Wheatley et al., 2012). There was a huge jumble of objects in a collage on a big screen. When asked about the location of money, it took over two minutes. When asked about the location of a face, it was almost instantaneous. Now imagine if that face looks exactly like yours. Even more instantaneous. That is a metaphor for mind perception with an identical twin sister and one that I recognize everyday. 

Another perk of mind perception is the ease in facilitating social connection and interaction. My sister and I joke that we just constantly blabber to each other at lightning speed. There is zero response time; we just laugh and instantly continue the conversation, jumping from one conversation to the next. Researchers found that conversations with faster response times felt more connected, and a third party perceived the conversation as more enjoyable (Templeton et al., 2022). No wonder, I thought, when I first read the article and connected it to my sister. 

Furthermore, Wheatley and his team found that the brain has the same electro-cortical response for dolls and humans, but there is a significantly larger response to human faces (Wheatley et al, 2011). The increased firing for human faces compared to inanimate objects fosters a greater sense of sociality and interaction between human to human. Another topic close to mind perception is humanization. Studies found that humanizing others nourishes healthier relationships and creates more sustainable bonds in the long run (Castro & Zautra, 2016). Combining the firing of the brain’s cortical responses with the humanization creating long-term healthy bonds, it sets humans up for the perfect recipe of social connection and belonging. Being empathetic is a quality I really admire. I think we can all agree it is a great character trait to demonstrate. Failing to consider another person’s perspective or mind is dehumanizing that person. Being empathetic is essentially humanizing and taking the perspective of another person, and of course, super advantageous in making new friends and connections. Mind perception is a fundamental tool in understanding others and forming these close social connections that we crave as humans. 

Orion: The Bad

Social Connection Enables Dehumanization. This conclusion, outlined by Waytz and Epley in their 2012 paper of the same title, raises immediate concerns about the implications of meeting one’s own need for belongingness on others. As a self-identified relationship anarchist, or, a person who believes that love and connection are not a zero-sum game, the thought that “increasing social connection diminishes the motivation to connect with the minds of additional others and increases the social distance between the self and more distant others” directly questions my closely held beliefs about our ability to love (Waytz & Epley, 2012). My newfound sense of belonging with my roommates this year floated to the surface as I scanned the disturbing findings. Our friendship is built on a foundation of shared values and multiple overlapping identities, and they fill a need for belonging that I’m not sure was met even before the pandemic began. This is great, of course; my level of confidence, security, and general wellbeing has mostly skyrocketed since being part of this little friend group, where we work consistently to value, humanize, and understand each other. But I cannot help but wonder if our radical inclusivity when it comes to our unique insecurities, flaws, and struggles is not also inherently exclusionary. Have I, in cultivating such close bonds with them, begun seeing others less complexly?

This is not the first time I’ve felt such a compelling sense of belonging. In high school I was a proudly self-described theater kid, spending most of my hours backstage chatting, eating, and doing homework with other theater kids, even when not actively working on a production. I am sure that any team activity – sports, chess club, editorial teams – lends itself to the formation of this sort of shared identity. Working with other actors as part of a cast not only provides a teamwork-based foundation for closeness but actively encourages you to mentalize, mimic, and generally tune yourself to the thoughts and feelings of your castmates, because these are the things that contribute to great on-stage chemistry. Perspective-taking, or imagining oneself in the mental and emotional state of another, is literally baked into the craft. But there was something else. 

It is my experience that the shared “theater kid” identity that compels us to sequester ourselves backstage involves a feeling of unbelonging everywhere else. We are often, but not always, a queer, neurodiverse, or otherwise “different” bunch, which can make traditional high school hallways a less than comfortable environment. The fact that we humanize each other so intensely provides a much-needed home base and safety net for navigating school, and I think this is good and necessary. With time, though, I see how this also worked to reinforce my belief that I would not be accepted and isolate myself from others. Occasionally, I have, in years since graduating, met and connected with a classmate outside of theater who remembers me – remembers what classes I took and which performances I was in, what I was studying, and where I worked for my senior project – while I did not remember very much about them at all. This troubles me, especially because the reason I do not remember is almost always that I assumed they, as people outside my in-group, would not accept me. So I just didn’t pay very close attention.

While this is of course a bit of a sad realization, Waytz and Epley outline far more serious consequences to our failure to humanize than missed high-school connections. It is, according to them, the mechanism of satiated need for belonging leading to indifference, not necessarily hatred, that laid the groundwork for the most atrocious crimes human beings have committed against one another in history. What do we do with this information? Obviously, I do not think it wise to starve ourselves of such a basic need for belongingness and connection. I do think we have a calling we cannot ignore to build communities that are affirming, supportive, and uplifting – but do so without defining a rigid, inflexible “them” and “us.” There is hope for this: one study found that having a strong moral identity, or sense of identification with the moral values of one’s communities, makes people “more likely to extend moral concern” to those outside their in-group (Smith et al., 2014). Yet more research is needed in identifying the protective factors that can help us continue to humanize others while meeting our own need for connection. 


Epley, N., & Waytz, A. (2010). Mind perception.

Wheatley, T., Kang, O., Parkinson, C., & Looser, C. E. (2012). From mind perception to mental connection: Synchrony as a mechanism for social understanding. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(8), 589-606. 

Wheatley, T., Weinberg, A., Looser, C., Moran, T., & Hajcak, G. (2011). Mind perception: Real but not artificial faces sustain neural activity beyond the N170/VPP. PloS one, 6(3), e17960.

Castro, S. A., & Zautra, A. J. (2016). Humanization of social relations: Nourishing health and resilience through greater humanity. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 36(2), 64–80. 

Waytz, A., & Epley, N. (2012). Social connection enables dehumanization. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 70–76.

Haslam, N. (2006). Dehumanization: An integrative review. Personality and social psychology review, 10(3), 252-264.

Melophilius (2016). Good Days and Bad [gif]. Imgur.

Smith, I. H., Aquino, K., Koleva, S., & Graham, J. (2014). The moral ties that bind . . . Even to out-groups: The interactive effect of moral identity and the binding moral foundations. Psychological Science, 25(8), 1554–1562. 

Templeton, E. M., Chang, L. J., Reynolds, E. A., LeBeaumont, M. D. C., & Wheatley, T. (2022). Fast response times signal social connection in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(4).


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Imitation in Our Lives, by Nia Fernandes, Jonathan Yuan & Sierra Agarwal

February 10th, 2022 · 26 Comments

We realized after reading the research papers on imitation that studying imitation transcends paper and is present in each of our lives. Every human has been impacted by imitation whether it be consciously or unconsciously. We wanted to shed light on how imitation has played a role in our lives as college students. From sharing how our home lives have affected us in seminar classes to looking at our friend circles and teammates, there is value in understanding the effectiveness of imitation in our daily lives and upbringing.

Nia: Imitation in The Family

After reading the Cheng article on self-monitoring without awareness, I realized that most children learn through nonconscious methods of imitation (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003). This may bring to light how we learnt to talk or walk, but I want to focus not on how imitation assimilates us into society, but on how it can differentiate each of us. The people we are around, our families, our culture, our hometowns, classmates, etc. shape each of us into who we are and continue to shape our future lives.

In my own family, I only have older brothers. Because of this, I would try to mimic everything they would do. From being a toddler and trying to use the bathroom like a boy to only wanting to play sports and do other traditionally masculine activities, I was completely ignorant to my non-conscious forms of mimicry. My father raised me the same way he did with his sons, so it never came as a surprise within my family that traditionally feminine activities, like “playing princess” or dressing up barbies, never appealed to me. It was easy for me to rationalize when my parents wanted me to be like “the boys”. I was consciously aware of this mimicry. However, it was not until I was older that I realized all of the subconscious ways mimicry had impacted me. I felt out of place interacting with large groups of girls when I had to do traditionally feminine activities. They were not doing anything wrong, but it was hard for me to “act” like they did without being consciously aware or “self-monitoring” my behaviors. I would sometimes question my own motives. Am I only doing this because everyone else is doing it? Do I really want to try on each other’s clothes and have a girls’ night? Why did I feel more comfortable playing sports with “the guys”? These feelings I had growing up manifested into me being a “high self-monitor” as I got older (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003).

While I’m no longer a complete tomboy playing in the yard with my brothers, I realized that being thrown into situations that felt “socially threatening” at a young age forced me to use mimicry when I felt uncomfortable. I am now a senior in college, and consciously or not, using affiliation cues to gauge when I should imitate others in a situation still holds true for me (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003). After this week’s readings, I urge each of you to look into how imitation has impacted your life from your upbringing. While we grow up to leave our homes, the standards and lifestyle of our homes set not only the expectations we have in social situations but also how we navigate them.

Jonathan: Imitation in Friend Groups

After making my way back to Harvard this year and reimmersing myself into the social community on campus, I could not help but notice how much I’ve begun to alter my behavior to match those around me. Whether it’s suddenly saying words from a TikTok that I have never seen or noticing friends adopting my hand gestures during enthusiastic conversation, mimicry seems to be a constant occurrence now, especially as we reintegrate into society after being isolated for the past few years during the pandemic. I’ve noticed this happen among my long-lasting friendships from childhood too, slowly adopting lingo, ways of speaking, or behaviors that only become evident after they fully become my own. This process often happens outside of the realm of conscious control and is hard to explain or track, but feels satisfying nonetheless.

According to psychological studies of mimicry and its effect on belonging and connection, this pattern of imitation has important implications on social relationships based on the specific contexts it is employed in. According to a study conducted by Leander et. al., context had a major impact on how mimicry affected individuals’ perceptions of those around them. The study demonstrated that mimicry improved perception of others among participants in a more intimate and friendly setting, whereas it elicited physical and emotional coldness in a more impersonal and distant setting (Leander et al., 2012). This emphasis on context makes sense in the discussion of friendships because these relationships are often incredibly intimate and among peers of equal status, so engaging in mimicry would have a positive effect on the relationship.

Mimicry is also shown to have a beneficial outcome on the strength of social interactions. Stel and Vonk found that the closeness and smoothness of interactions were heightened among two participants when one mimicked the other’s facial expressions and non-verbal actions (Stel & Vonk, 2010). I found in my own interactions that the realization of mimicry typically comes with lots of laughter and a greater sense of joy in having an impact on others in this way. Given that this happens in the instances where we can catch the mimicry and that a majority of it goes under the radar, the presence of mimicry in friendships makes a lot of sense, since it leads to a greater sense of connection to others and leads to a more stable relationship moving forward.

Though often our values and upbringings encourage us to think of ourselves as unique individuals, perhaps this focus of independence is a bit too narrow-minded. As we develop complex and intimate relationships with those around us, adopting elements of those who we think are important is a fundamental part of who we are and who we become, as demonstrated by these studies and more. I encourage you to take a look at your interactions with your friends and see if you can find any signs of mimicry; if you do, then you might just have a keeper.

Sierra: Imitation in Sport

Throughout the majority of my childhood, I was a competitive gymnast training eight hours a day and up to thirty two hours a week. My teammates were my closest friends, while also being my closest competitors. When you are spending so much time with the same people in such a competitive yet family-like environment, you start to pick up tendencies that specific individuals have. In particular, I had one teammate who would always style her hair in the locker room into a slick back, tight ballerina bun. I knew that no matter what, she would always do so. Whether I wanted to pick up on these tendencies or not, it was inevitable, and as time went on, I began to mimic some of them. I was the youngest of my teammates by two years, which naturally, had me look up to them and admire what they could do. All that I wanted to achieve was what the “older girls” could, and I would do anything in order to accomplish so.

Recent research has shown that mimicry facilitates the bonds that people form, as well as the emotions that people feel with each other (Stel & Vonk, 2010).  In sport, the importance of team chemistry is always reiterated because of its impact. Going back to my earlier point on picking up my teammate’s tendencies of how she styled her hair, before I knew it, I began to style my hair in the exact same way that she did. I began to notice that when I did so, I naturally felt closer with her because we had something in common that we didn’t have before. This revealed to me that something as small as styling my hair the same could have such a large impact on my teammate’s and I relationship. My teammate and I began sharing more emotional stories with one another, and were generally more open with one another because we had a stronger and deeper emotional bond. This, all in all, showed me that mimicry positively impacted the bond I formed with my teammate on both a personal and emotional level, thus supporting the findings of Stel & Vonk (2010).

Another study conducted by Ashton-James et al., (2007) found that how close people are is affected by mimicking, and specifically found that it brings people closer to one another. As said before, being the youngest on my team put me in the position to naturally see my teammates as those who I want to look up to and do the same as they did. Sport is about repetition, it is about having a confident mindset and it is about knowing that your teammates have your back. To the repetition piece, I would physically imitate the certain skills or moves my teammates would do. They would do a round off, I would do a round off. They would do a full turn, I would do a full turn. By mimicking their actions, I connected with them on a deeper level to where we would bond and connect over the struggles or achievements we had over a particular skill. Going through this experience supports the findings that Ashton-James et al., (2007) found in the sense that we both understood the complexities that went into our performance, and by imitating what the older girls were doing, we were able to form a connection that was closer. 

While gymnastics had a large impact on my life and how I view older individuals, I strongly think that everyone should have either a formal or informal mentor on whatever team they are a part of. Whether that is in the workplace, in school, in sport, or whatever else it is where you are working with others, find that person who you can look up to, who will push you to want to do what they do, and ultimately, mimic.



Ashton-James, C., van Baaren, R. B., Chartrand, T. L., Decety, J., & Karremans, J. (2007). Mimicry and me: The impact of mimicry on self-construal. Social Cognition, 25, 518–535.

Cheng, C. M., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Self-monitoring without awareness: using mimicry as a nonconscious affiliation strategy. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(6), 1170.

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. 

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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Teamwork makes the dream work — because we can’t all be Michael Phelps

April 7th, 2021 · 6 Comments


The Beatles, the Boston Red Sox, the Avengers. Everywhere we look people join together with others who share the same goals, passions, or superhero-like abilities which make them part of a distinct group. This semester, we’ve spent each class dissecting our need to belong, and our group associations constitute a huge component of fulfilling that need. Lara, Ari, and I each belong to sports teams here on campus which have provided unique group environments throughout our time here. We are excited to share the experiences we’ve had on the dance, soccer, and rugby teams as we examine some of the benefits and drawbacks of group membership. 


Coming to college, I knew very little other than the fact that I was going to be completely out of my element and that I was going to go crazy if I didn’t find a way to continue dancing. As a lifelong ballerina but yearning to try out something new, I adventured to an Expressions hip-hop workshop during opening days (that performance was laughable, a ballerina doing hip-hop?) and was approached by two of my now teammates who encouraged me to come to Crimson Dance Team (CDT!!!) auditions the next day. Apparently, they were impressed by my ability to count to eight and sassy walk with the best of ‘em (or at least that’s what they told me after I made the team).


The first thing that struck me about CDT was how different everyone was, putting aside our identifications as dancers and Harvard students. We come from a variety of dance backgrounds (some competitive, some ballet and jazz, some hip-hop, etc.) and, in my years on the team, we’ve had members from more than ten states and four countries with countless other identities and life experiences. The ability to bring different people together can be very beneficial for groups by increasing the number of perspectives and amount of knowledge contributed to achieving a goal (Cheng, Sanchez-Burks, & Lee, 2008). On CDT, that can mean offering different approaches to cleaning a dance (working on each individual component of a move so everyone is in perfect unison) or suggesting team building strategies; the more people we have making unique contributions, the more competitive we can be as a group. Groups are also just a great way to meet people who come from all walks of life in order to expose yourself to these different perspectives.


Aside from bringing different people together, teams (and other groups) have many other benefits. We know that group membership increases our overall sense of belonging (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), but this is especially salient following rejection in other social environments. When people experience rejection, they gravitate towards and find more meaning in their pre-established groups in order to fix their dampened sense of belonging (Knowles & Gardner, 2008). Being a part of the dance team has definitely benefited me when it comes to finding my place at Harvard and having people to turn to when things are a bit rough. Team membership generally can have many positive attributes when it comes to social connection, however there are also some potential drawbacks which must be examined in order to get a complete picture of what it means to belong to this type of group.



“One last rep, go Gibby!!” In between the beating of my heart in my ears, I hear my teammates yelling my nickname as I turn for the last conditioning sprint of the workout. Fighting through the pain and lactic acid filling my thighs with concrete, it’s their loud encouragement that gets me through that last repetition. My team informs a large part of my identity, at Harvard and beyond; being a student-athlete fills me with pride, responsibility, and an inherent belonging to the entire athletic community. Group membership to the soccer team provides me with the opportunity to grow and meet goals together, creating an interdependency. I enjoy this unique dynamic, as we need and rely on every single player to be on board (not literally!) with the team goals in order to win games, championships, and improve both personally and collectively.


The knowledge that I’m ‘stuck with’ my 20+ teammates for at least four years somewhat forces acceptance and approval of everyone, however, this also spawns an imbalance between assimilating with the team’s dominant identities in contrast to maintaining individuality. The optimal distinctiveness model describes this dichotomy as opposing needs for assimilation and differentiation, in which we define ourselves using distinctive category memberships (Brewer, 1991). Social identities are strongest in those categorizations that are not too inclusive where they become constraining, while also narrow enough to create a sense of belonging. When groups maintain this balance, we are more likely to identify with them and adopt their principles (Brewer, 1991). Personally, I experienced this conflict in assimilating to the heteronormative environment on my team for my first two years and instinctively ignoring my sexual orientation and exploration. Naturally, I assumed that I was straight, both because of existing team norms and conformity out of fear of rejection or ostracism. The thought of coming out to my team became a very anxiety-inducing experience; I played out drastic events of losing my place in this group and having to quit, even though deep down I anticipated that they would accept me regardless.


Coming out, I did not expect positive reactions from my teammates, as I had concealed this stigmatized identity from them for two years of our interactions. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have been shown to be perceived more negatively when they were associated with people’s ingroups (Lupo & Zárate, 2019). Similarly, early disclosure of homosexuality to a heterosexual study partner, versus later coming out, was predictive of increased liking, closeness, and interest ratings in spending one-on-one time in another study (Dane et al., 2015). Contrary to my knowledge of how people can react, and the imminent threat of losing one of my social identities, I stepped out of my comfort zone and overcame my initial flight reaction to leave the closet. To my surprise, the outcome emulated those results showing that participants reacted more positively for established in-group members (Buliga & MacInnis, 2020). In fact, the pre-existing friendships on my team felt like a buffer to the potentially stigmatized perception they may have had of my ‘non-straight-ness’. Learning about an established friend’s membership to an out-group, in this case sexuality, can be overruled by preceding relationship satisfaction and investment into the friendship through long-term commitment (Rusbult et al., 2012).


So maybe my initial fear and stress reaction were part of an innate fear activation reaction involving the HPA axis, amygdala, and sympathetic nervous system? Maybe my stress of rejection was perspective-taking of my team’s perception that turned disadvantageous to my personal well-being? A theme we have found in this course is that the intense physiological aspect of empathy can be counterproductive in that it produced undue stress, anxiety, and fear in me. We may need to self-regulate this vicarious aspect of empathy to maintain our relationships, and our individuality. Tuning into empathy to connect with my teammates is advantageous to create belonging and powerful group identities, however, it can also lead us to hide, or even lose, a part of ourselves.



Moving to a new place gives people the opportunity to curate the different parts of themselves due to decreased interactions with some of the groups they may have previously strongly identified with. As I prepare for graduation and moving to a new place, one of my main concerns is finding a group of friends. Coming into college, I was *briefly* in a similar situation as I knew of one other person who was going to Harvard but Opening Days, roommates, the mere presence of Berg, and joining the rugby team facilitated meeting new people. What I didn’t expect was exactly how close I would get to some of my teammates. As we learned in class, people in our in-groups are more likely to become and stay friends and sports provided me that space. 


According to Graupensperger et al. (2020), small groups, like college club sports, lead to increased group identification which in turn, often leads to group members behaving to fit in and greater team cohesion. As Lara described, this can have a wide range of implications, some stressful, some encouraging. In a study investigating group membership and running, a relatively solitary activity,  Evans et al. (2019) found women often report a greater running identity compared to men when linked with a running group. The results suggest those who consider running a part of their identity generally run greater distances on average. This supports my own experiences at the collegiate level with one example being conditioning. Conditioning sessions on my own are not as appealing and I will often try to rope people into conditioning with me because it’s an easy reminder of my membership to a team greater than myself. 


Group membership is also based on social identity. The connection between group membership and social identity is moderated by the amount of prosocial or antisocial behavior between members during a given day (Bruner & Benson, 2018). In my own personal experience, team vibes are indicative of whether we’ll have a “good” or “bad” practice; for that reason we make a concerted effort to change our behavior when it seems like we are getting down on ourselves or chippy with teammates. Realizing this relies heavily on the experienced players who know the team to steer the rest of the team in a more constructive direction. This is only possible when teammates know the verbal and physical signs of someone being off track. The more time teams spend together, the closer they tend to get and research suggests this increases an individual’s commitment to the team (Graupensperger et al., 2020). The beginning of the season is challenging as everyone adjusts to new roles, new teammates, and figuring out social connections. As a freshman, I was one of eight walk-ons (only two remained by senior year) and it took some time to settle in and figure who was actually going to become a part of the team. And after winning a national championship in the fall of 2019, I’d say we found our groove. 


Rugby is and will continue to be a huge part of my life after college, but instead of being an active member of the team, I will be a part of the Harvard-Radcliffe Rugby alumni group. Sports have been a cornerstone of my life and despite leaving behind the organized, rigorous collegiate sports atmosphere, I’m already looking for teams in my soon-to-be home. After all, the common interest sports provide me makes it easier to meet new people while providing an easy conversation starter that could be the start of meaningful new friendships and group connections.



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

Baumeister, Roy F, & Leary, Mark R. (1995). The Need to Belong. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

Brewer, M. B. (1991). The social self: On being the same and different at the same time. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 17(5), 475-482.

Bruner, Mark W, & Benson, Alex J. (2018). Evaluating the psychometric properties of the Social Identity Questionnaire for Sport (SIQS). Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 35, 181-188.

Buliga, E., & MacInnis, C. (2020). “How do you like them now?” Expected reactions upon discovering that a friend is a political out-group member. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(10-11), 2779-2801.

Cheng, Chi-Ying, Sanchez-Burks, Jeffrey, & Lee, Fiona. (2008). Taking advantage of differences: Increasing team innovation through identity integration. In Diversity and Groups (Vol. 11, pp. 55-73). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Dane, S. K., Masser, B. M., MacDonald, G., & Duck, J. M. (2015). When “in your face” is not out of place: The effect of timing of disclosure of a same-sex dating partner under conditions of contact. PLoS ONE, 10(8), e0135023.

Evans, M. Blair, McLaren, Colin, Budziszewski, Ross, & Gilchrist, Jenna. (2019). When a sense of “we” shapes the sense of “me”: Exploring how groups impact running identity and behavior. Self and Identity, 18(3), 227-246.

Graupensperger, Scott, Panza, Michael, & Evans, M. Blair. (2020). Network Centrality, Group Density, and Strength of Social Identification in College Club Sport Teams. Group Dynamics, 24(2), 59-73.

Knowles, Megan L, & Gardner, Wendi L. (2008). Benefits of Membership: The Activation and Amplification of Group Identities in Response to Social Rejection. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(9), 1200-1213.

Lupo, A. K., & Zárate, M. A. (2019). When “they” become “us”: The effect of time and ingroup identity on perceptions of gay and lesbian group members. Journal of homosexuality, 66(6), 780-796.

Rusbult, C. E., Agnew, C. R., & Arriaga, X. B. (2012). The investment model of commitment processes. In Handbook of theories of social psychology (pp. 218–231). Sage. → 6 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Perspective-Taking in Romantic Relationships

April 1st, 2021 · 5 Comments


My quarantine has been spent watching a lot of reality TV. Specifically, romantic shows such as Love is Blind, Married at First Sight, and the Bachelor. There are so many different iterations of shows asking you to watch two people fall in love and stick around to see if their relationship lasts. Clearly there is something intriguing about watching a romantic relationship develop and seeing the drama play out. While watching, we get to see the heartbreak but also the blossoming of new love. A staple of these shows is the interviews where each person shares their thoughts on the state of the relationship. Often, these thoughts involve trying to figure out whether their love interest likes them back and in general trying to understand the others’ perspective. 

This makes sense because perspective-taking is a critical part of any relationship. Perspective-taking involves stepping into the mind of another person to understand what they are thinking and feeling. In romantic relationships, perspective-taking occurs all throughout the course of the relationship. From the beginning, both parties are trying to identify whether their interest in the other is reciprocated. Rejection hurts and can be extremely uncomfortable. Even though we might try hard to figure out what someone else is thinking, it is really difficult for us to accurately identify their thoughts and feelings especially in regards to romantic relationships. Bohns & DeVincent (2019) found that those who initiate romantic relationships underestimate how difficult it is for the other person to reject their advances. While I was watching the Bachelor, I could palpably feel this discomfort every time Matt James sent girls home. The girls were also very disappointed and upset and I imagine they would have trouble empathizing with Matt’s position.

Perspective-taking is important throughout the relationship as well. Understanding your partner’s perspective is crucial for the well-being of romantic relationships (Ramezani et al. 2020). The reality TV shows take advantage of this fact by inserting uncertainty into the plots of the show. For example, in Love is Blind, the couples are engaged throughout the show and must decide at the altar whether to say I do. This creates a tension between the couples as they try to figure out what their partner is going to say when they get to the wedding. Similarly, in Married at First Sight, the couples are married and must decide at the end of the show whether to stay married or get divorced. Oftentimes you can tell who will reject their partner and who will feel blindsided by the rejection. It can still be heartbreaking to watch as someone realizes that their view of the relationship was very different from their partner’s view of the relationship. Luckily perspective-taking and empathy can be improved through Theory of Mind training as evidenced in the Ramezani et al. (2020) paper. Theory of Mind training involves teaching couples how to identify mental states so that they can learn to understand the mental states of their partners (Ramezani et al. 2020). While this would be the healthiest for these relationships, I don’t think it would not be as entertaining for the audience.



As mentioned above, romantic relationships do require high demand for perspective-taking and empathy abilities, becoming even harder when it comes to the affective forecasting part. Namely, when we have a crush on someone, whether we can accurately predict if they have similar feelings to us; or whether we can wisely step out when the others show no interest in us through their implicit cues, is very important but troublesome to us. 

We may sometimes wonder why we keep regretfully missing someone we care about in the crowds without forming a stronger bond with him/her. In the series Sex Education, which narrates a teenage boy Otis with a sex therapist mother teams up with his high school classmate Maeve to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school, Maeve and Otis soon realize that they share far more in common than they had originally thought and secretly develop romantic feelings for one another. However, neither of them acts on their impulses out of fear that the other does not feel the same way, and they end up passing by each other while forming romantic relationships with others (watch here ). 

Whenever you encounter this kind of situation, do not overly blame yourself and regard it as common. We do desire one day we can have some magic power to predict the significant others’ feelings, which we cannot possibly get. However, there are still some ways to improve our forecasting accuracy to some extent.


Part 1: Causes

To begin with, I want to mention some of the nature behind the affective forecasting process towards the one we like. When we experience the feelings of desperately desiring someone, admittedly it is partially attributed to their physical attractiveness, personality and probably similarity and complementarity. Nevertheless, have you ever thought about the uncertainty itself of whether they like us can increase romantic attraction, which can be exemplified by an experiment, of which the female participants in the uncertain condition were most attracted to the men – even more attracted than were participants who were told that the men liked them a lot(Erin R. Whitchurch, 2011). After that, the attraction along with our perceived rarity, acting as an incentive, will influence our affective forecasting and then our motivation. 

Honestly, it interests me firstly regarding why people sometimes flinch, facing the attraction, even though performing actively can significantly increase the possibility of success. It is reminiscent of people’s fear of being rejected, rejection sensitivity, as we’ve talked about in the class. Interestingly, to dig it deeper, I found the subjective expected pleasure theory. Especially when the unobtained outcome is more desirable, the anticipated pleasure about the obtained outcome declines because people anticipate disappointment when they imagine getting the worse outcome or anticipate regret when they imagine having made the wrong choice. Moreover, as for the forecasting process, the displeasure of getting the worst of two outcomes is typically greater in magnitude than the pleasure of receiving the better outcome(Barbara A. Mellers 2001). In other words, people tend to imagine possible bad outcomes more negatively than they originally are. Along with this, the anticipated pleasure will determine our next steps of decision-making(Barbara A. Mellers 2001). 

The next question comes to what causes the misperception. The signal detection theory (SDT) describes this as the sensitivity of distinguishing sexual intent cues from friendly cues (Figure 1). Specifically, the insensitive one can perceive more overlaps between the friendly cues and sexually interested cues. It should be highlighted that these sensitivity variances are not only due to inheritable or gender differences, but also due to stimulus such as clothing style, dating variables, alcohol, attractiveness(Farris et al., 2008) etc.. According to this theory, misperception may arise from people’s different signal detection sensitivity. For instance, the insensitive one (panel a) cannot distinguish the large parts of the overlap, when dating a sensitive one (panel b). Additionally, decision criteria can also affect the outcomes (Figure 2). For instance, the liberal one (point a) may mistake some friendly cues as sexual intent cues, while the conservative one (point b) may neglect some sexual intent cues as friendly cues. This can explain why males perceive both males and females as having more sexual interest than do females – their perception thresholds are different. Evolutionary theorists have suggested that men’s reproductive goals are better achieved by over-perceiving (lower threshold) rather than underperceiving women’s level of sexual interest(Parkhill, 2015). Overall, the bias will result in the misperception and I hypothesize that the misperception outcomes will in turn influence the sensitivity due to the close relationship between rejection and self-evaluation. 


Figure 1. Normal probability distributions representing perception of friendliness and sexual interest. Panel a depicts the perceptual distributions of an individual who is relatively insensitive to the difference between friendliness and sexual interest. Panel b depicts the perceptual distributions of a more sensitive individual(Farris et al., 2008). 


Figure 2. Normal probability distributions representing perception of friendliness and sexual interest. Decision criterion points are depicted to illustrate decisional bias. Point ‘A’ represents a liberal criterion; point ‘B’ represents a conservative criterion(Farris et al., 2008).


Part 2: Solutions

Even though it is pretty hard to maintain accurate affective forecasting, we still can figure out some possible solutions based on those findings. For instance, we should know clearly the uncertainty feelings can give us certain kinds of illusions, to avoid suffering from obsessive love disorder. 

Plus, we should consider the possible effects of SDT if we always step into misperception. To be more specific, we should deliberately know more about others’ perspectives, especially the significant other you are dating with. According to the research, even though people can more accurately predict their affective reactions to a future event when they know how a neighbor in their social network reacted to the event than when they know about the event itself or some predictions of the observers(Gilbert et al., 2009), they are still more prone to conjure an inaccurate vision based on the presence of event information(Knowing, 2009). Thus, the takeaway is that we should forecast based on the actual feelings of surrogates currently experiencing the event or neighbors/observers’ advice. 

On top of that, despite of the subjective expected pleasure theory, we still can mentally subtract positive events to improve our affective state, according to the evidence that Internet respondents and university staff members who wrote about how they might never have met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than were those who wrote about how they did meet their partner(Koo et al., 2008).

Finally, never overlook the beneficial consequences for mood by actively engaging in positive self-representation, even to strangers, because The failure to recognize the affective benefits of putting one’s best face forward may underlie forecasting errors regarding the emotional consequences of the most common forms of social interactions(Dunn et al., 2007).



Barbara A. Mellers , A. P. M. (2001). Anticipated Emotions as Guides to Choice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(6). 


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.


Dunn, E. W., Biesanz, J. C., Human, L. J., & Finn, S. (2007, Jun). Misunderstanding the affective consequences of everyday social interactions: the hidden benefits of putting one’s best face forward. J Pers Soc Psychol, 92(6), 990-1005. Erin R. Whitchurch, T. D. W. a. D. T. G. (2011). ”He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not . . . ”: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction. Psychological Science(22), 172. 


Farris, C., Treat, T. A., Viken, R. J., & McFall, R. M. (2008, Jan). Sexual coercion and the misperception of sexual intent. Clin Psychol Rev, 28(1), 48-66. Gilbert, D. T., Killingsworth, M. A., Eyre, R. N., & Wilson, T. D. (2009, Mar 20). The surprising power of neighborly advice. Science, 323(5921), 1617-1619. Knowing, M. I. v. Y. F. C. P. A. F. B. I. B. (2009). My Imagination vs. Your Feelings: Can Personal Affective Forecasts Be Improved By Knowing. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 15(4), 351-360. 


Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008, Nov). It’s a wonderful life: mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. J Pers Soc Psychol, 95(5), 1217-1224. Parkhill, A. J. J.-T. A. A. M. R. (2015). Why Do Some Men Misperceive Women’s Sexual Intentions More Frequently Than Others Do? An Application of the Confluence Model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 


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


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Reality Check: How friendships draw us to reality TV

March 13th, 2021 · 5 Comments

The reality-competition game show Survivor is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with 40 seasons aired since the American show started in 2000. The Survivor franchise has become almost cult-like: with around 7 million viewers, it continues to be one of CBS’s most popular shows (TV Series Finale). But what makes this show so captivating? Why are we as humans drawn to reality television so much? Well, there’s a lot there— so buckle in and stay tuned for our take on it! 


If you haven’t watched Survivor, one, you should (I’ve been binging it all semester) and two, I’ll break down the format for you. Basically, a group of strangers are marooned together in an isolated location competing to be the sole-survivor and winner of one million dollars. The group competes in physical challenges that earn them benefits; safety, resources, and special prizes. Here’s the catch; every few days, one member is voted out of the tribe by the others. So beyond the physical challenges and surviving in the wild, this game show has a huge psychological component. Forming friendships, allies, and trust is integral to making it through the show for the chance to win $1,000,000. 

Watching along from my couch at home, it is impossible not to think about the social dynamics within the show– especially this week as we learn about friendship and acquaintances. Along with fulfilling their basic need to survive like finding food and water, contestants must also form social connections and bonds in order to stay in the game. This mirrors our backbone Baumeister & Leary paper– that social connections are a fundamental human need (1995). In order to win, contestants must form connections. 

Forming and maintaining friendships are the only way to stay and get to the end of the show– so how do contestants form these bonds and know who to trust? We learned this week that friendships form based on proximity and chance which can be directly seen in the show (Back, Schmukle & Egloff, 2008). At the start, contestants are randomly split into two tribes and when they connect back together further on in the season, alliances are almost always along original tribe lines. 

Maintaining these friendships and allies on Survivor are mostly based on trust– and the willingness to reciprocate that trust to prove your alliance. As we see in the study by Lount mentioned in the lecturette, “trusting another person requires a willingness to be vulnerable in potentially costly interactions, with the hope that one’s partner will act with positive intentions” (2010). This is continuously seen as the contestants build allies and friends– by putting their trust in others and being vulnerable in the hopes their partner will stay true and not vote them off the island, they build a reciprocal relationship. 

However, this trust gets broken throughout the 40 seasons over and over by the players. It has been shown that humans will compromise their values when there is a monetary reward present– and with $1,000,000 on the line, people are more willing to cheat, lie, and play the game to stay ahead (Météreau et al. 2019). That’s a whole other blog post though… 

When I watch Survivor, I always ask myself, “What would I do if I were on this show in this situation?” We are entertained by shows like this because we can in some part experience and feel joy from these relationships without having the negative consequences of actually being in them. 

However, the use of friendships for entertainment is not at all exclusive to Survivor. One could make a strong case that friendships are part of what draws us to the realm of reality television in the first place. Reality television combines the human love for stories with our craving for relationships, friendships, and of course, the ~juicy drama~ that comes with it. Without actually experiencing the drama firsthand, we are able to invest ourselves emotionally into the characters’ lives and friendships through the plot. 

“Much narrative entertainment is about characters and social interactions…People who love exploring relationships and friendships might like shows that emphasize the ‘unscripted’ social interactions and small scale personal dramas, such as soap operas or reality TV,” explains Brendan Rooney, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University College Dublin who researches the emotional and cognitive engagement with entertainment (Ryan-Christensen, 2020). When thinking about what makes “reality TV” what it is, the storytelling mechanisms and “real-life” editing it uses makes perfect sense why we are attracted to it.

Assuming we watch these shows with a big “reality check” knowing they are warped, the exploration of reality TV relationships and the scenarios they endure becomes, in some ways, “practice” for our friendships in actual reality. Although the interactions are fabricated from our perspective, the ability to “experience” these low-cost friendships through reality TV reflects research that suggests there are rewards in “weak tie” and “low-stakes” friendships. Entertainment “friendships” are likely not a substitute for true acquaintances, but they may be a complement; maybe there exists a connection between the enjoyment we feel when watching these shows and the higher positivity ratings of more “weak tie” interactions in experiments such as Epley & Schroeder (2014). Sandstrom & Dunn (2014) also note higher happiness ratings associated with the number of weak tie interactions an individual makes in a given day relative to their average (Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W., 2014). If watching reality TV allows us to, in some ways, “simulate” these interactions, could this also be an explanation for why we choose to binge watch these series?

A large shortcoming of this hypothesis is that reality TV interactions are not necessarily “interactions” in the sense that there is communication between two individuals. The benefits discussed by Volpe (2019) emphasize the potential for developing social networks among acquaintances and low-cost friends. Volpe’s argument also uses conversation as an almost necessary cause. The experiments conducted by Epley & Schroeder (2014) and Sandstrom & Dunn (2014) observe humans interacting with other humans. Of course, watching a reality TV show does not allow the viewer to hold a conversation with or introduce themselves to the character. In this respect, it brings to question whether or not the interaction has to be two-sided in order to reap certain benefits of “experiencing” friendships.

Nonetheless, reality TV still stands as a great manifestation of the fundamental need to belong within the entertainment industry. By making it an integral component of success within the game, Survivor quite literally places the need to belong with other fundamental needs of food, water, and shelter. The examples don’t stop here; from The Kardashians to The Bachelor (but more on where romance fits into all of this next week), we are drawn to the experience of friendships through reality TV’s storytelling mechanism. Although it may not directly fulfill our need to belong, it is clear that reality TV provides practice in friendships that is both applicable to real life and fun to watch.

– Tess + Kara

Works Cited:

Baumeister, Roy F.,Leary, Mark R. The Need to Belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 117(3), May 1995, 497-529. Back MD, Schmukle SC, Egloff B. Becoming friends by chance. Psychol Sci. 2008 May;19(5):439-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02106.x. PMID: 18466403.

CBS 2019-20 Season Ratings. TV Series Finale. October 29, 2020. Epley, N., & Schroeder, J. (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1980–1999.

Lount, R. B., Jr. (2010). The impact of positive mood on trust in interpersonal and intergroup interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(3), 420–433.

Qu, C., Météreau, E., Butera, L., Villeval, M. C., & Dreher, J. C. (2019). Neurocomputational Mechanisms at Play when Weighing Concerns for Extrinsic Rewards, Moral Values, and Social Image. PLOS Biology, 17(6), [e3000283].

Ryan-Christensen, Aoife (January 2020). What’s the psychology behind our obsession with reality TV? RTÉ. 

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.
Volpe, A. (May 2019). Why you need a network of low-stakes casual friendships. New York Times

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Pand(empathy): Processing the Emotions of a Pandemic

February 27th, 2021 · 7 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 · 14 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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