Before we introduce some scientific facts to you, let us begin with telling you that there is nothing wrong with “ladies who lunch”. On the contrary, there are many things right about ladies who maintain a friend circle that commences once in a while. These women might share some recipes – or best places for takeout, talk about their marriages – or their single lives, critique their new hairstyle – or someone else’s hair style, but more importantly, fight cognitive decline and death.
Most of us are afraid of aging, because aging means not being as active or efficient as we used to be. Incompetencies of aging create significant frustration and even feelings of hopelessness. However, recent studies show that while aging cannot be reversed, its effects can be decreased through a sustainable social life. Over the years, we realize the importance of friendship during times of struggle. We usually seek the need to share our struggles with the ones that are closest to us. We all know that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Yet, a friend is also a cognitive push for our brains to fight dementia, Alzheimer’s, and work on long-term resilience.
A friendship does not only equal a relationship between two people. It means shared values, dreams, hobbies and activities – all of which involve the brain and help it grow. Therefore, some scientists say that a friendship is a “non-zero sum game” while a friendship affects many areas of the brain that are outside the direct realm of interpersonal interactions. What does that really mean? A relationship that starts as a flow of information between two people become more than what it was in the beginning. As social beings, human beings expand on their linear relationship within a certain environment and get to know other people, activities, patterns and experiences. All of this proves that the more people one knows, the less lonely one feels. Loneliness is definitely not a desired state of being – not only because it leads up to depression, but also because it is associated with dementia.
What more can friends do against cognitive decline besides resisting dementia? A meta-analysis of 148 studies recently revealed that a friendship can also build a mechanism of survival – and we mean “literal survival”. Stakes appear to be generally higher for someone who has friends. With friends, there are more things to pay attention to since your friends depend on your existence as much as you depend on your theirs. On a basic level, the brain interprets this as a reason not to die and strive to live longer. It feels more inclined to take less risks and think more critically before making any important decisions. So essentially, your friends save you even they appear to be a burden on you. Your brain takes the best out of the experience and utilizes it for your longevity.
As the human race becomes more dependent on social media, we tend to believe our interactions become diversified and our social network wider. Unfortunately, the opposite holds true. Social media interactions trick one into thinking that friendship can be strengthened or even built over the internet; whereas scientists argue that one can only have a certain amount of friends that can be fully grasped within the brain. The Dunbar Number, for example, claims that one can approximately have 150 friends given the size of the average brain. The number, of course, is being contested, but our quest for real friendship -given the capacities of the brain- demonstrates that it is better to move away from virtual interactions and ask some friends out for lunch.
by Deniz Cam