Social Connection and the Brain’s System Reward

It is widely accepted that social relationships and contacts are an important part of people’s lives. Furthermore, according to many studies, the importance of positive social experiences across the lifespan is well established. Feelings of safety and acceptance may be simply generated by seeing a smile from a parent or peer or hearing a verbal affirmation. This leads to nurturing the basic  homeostatic needs of belongingness and affiliation.

According to experts, people are primarily social beings who seek physical contact with other people as well as strong emotional ties. Since 2002, the World Health Organization has recognized social relationships as an important social determinant of health throughout our lives. Indeed, the importance of social relationships was demonstrated by their impact on human general functioning and physical health.

Like the human survival role of social relationships, the opposite is also recognized: a lack of social ties and connections is acknowledged as a threat to human survival. In fact, regarding animal and human research, a set of neural regions that are involved in detecting and responding to impending danger or threat has been identified, including the threat of social disconnection.

In social  connection there are three neural and psychological processes involved :

1-stress-related responses ;

 2- reward and motivational systems ;

3- social cognitive processes.

In this context, corticostriatal circuits dependably process social rewards, just like they do primary and secondary rewards like food or money. Approach behaviour is associated with increases in dopaminergic release in the ventral striatum, both for non-social and social rewards. An individual is motivated to seek out social rewards due to the intrinsic value of social interactions and rewards.

Studies on animals have demonstrated that during social interactions, oxytocin neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus are activated. This increases dopaminergic activity, which in turn increases prosocial behaviors. On an other hand, administration of oxytocin in humans has been linked to an increase in social outcomes such as demonstrating confidence in new partners and altruistic actions.

Furthermore, human Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI ) research has consistently demonstrated that the striatum is activated in scenarios involving rewarding social interactions. This is particularly true when the encounter involves an already-existing social relationship because it presents a chance to fortify it.

Our memories also contain this satisfying value of social experiences. It has been demonstrated that decisions to explore additional connections with close individuals are influenced by pleasant recollections of past social interactions with them.

 Moreover, the affirming importance of social connections can also positively impact decision-making. One instance would be altruistic choices or deeds (like charitable contributions), which can uplift one’s feelings and promote interpersonal relationships more generally.

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