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Por qué hablar con extraños es bueno para la salud

Por qué hablar con extraños es bueno para el cerebro

La pandemia producida por la COVID-19 está teniendo efectos muy negativos en la salud mental de las personasLa pandemia. Durante el confinamiento muchas personas se vieron forzadas a pasar sus días en soledad, mientras que otras tuvieron que convivir más estrechamente de lo que hubieran deseado con familiares o compañeros de piso.

Al mismo tiempo, la pandemia ha traído otras consecuencias psicológicas, cómo el aumento de la intolerancia, el racismo o la xenofobia. Por desgracia, estas actitudes son lógicas si se busca su origen en nuestra historia evolutiva. Cuando nuestros ancestros estaban enfermos, o temían que alguien lo estuviera, su primer instinto era el aislamiento y el rechazo. La xenofobia es originalmente un miedo ancestral a que lo extraños nos contagien algo malo. 

Esto es una tragedia para la humanidad, porque relacionarse con extraños tiene muchos beneficios para el cerebro y, en estos momentos, es exactamente lo que necesita la humanidad. Más de la mitad de los habitantes del planeta viven en ciudades, donde a pesar de la proximidad, se evita el contacto con extraños, y más ahora.

Sin embargo, un estudio en apariencia simple publicado en 2014 mostró que esa es la actitud equivocada. Los investigadores pidieron a los participantes que interactuaran con extraños cuando usaran el transporte público. Encontraron que, aunque la gente esperaba que hablar con extraños iba a ser una experiencia desagradable; en realidad, era más agradable que sentarse solos. Los participantes también dijeron que encontraban su viaje tan productivo y satisfactorio como los días en que permanecían solos.

El mero hecho de hablar con una persona extraña tenía en el cerebro el mismo efecto positivo que se registra al realizar una tarea de voluntariado o ayudar a alguien en la calle: una mejora del estado de ánimo general. Las actividades prosociales no solo benefician a quien recibe la ayuda, sino también a quien la presta.

Estas sensaciones positivas que se experimentan al socializar con extraños son tan importantes que se ha descubierto que disponen de su propio circuito en el cerebro, separado del circuito habitual de recompensa. La oxitocina es el neurotransmisor encargado de mediar en este comportamiento, y no tanto la dopamina. Este sistema de es el que puede estar dañado en personas que sufren trastornos en los que evitan la interacción social, como en el autismo.

Esto corrobora los hallazgos de otro estudio en el que se buscó una correlación entre lo agradable que era un vecindario, y lo positivas que eran las relaciones vecinales, con la incidencia de enfermedades cardiovasculares. Como era de esperar, cuando más antipáticos eran los vecinos, mayor era el riesgo de infartos en esa comunidad. 

Tampoco es mejor estar solos que mal acompañados. La soledad aumenta igualmente el riesgo de enfermedades cardiovasculares, un sistema inmunitario debilitado, y mayor mortalidad. En riesgo de muerte prematura, el riesgo producido por la soledad equivale a fumar moderadamente, y es mayor que el de la obesidad. De nuevo, la falta de oxitocina está en la raíz del problema.

Si la socialización es tan importante para la salud, ¿por qué nos cuesta tanto trabajo? El miedo al rechazo es la explicación más inmediata, pero eso no debería detenernos. Se ha podido comprobar que en general, caemos a la gente mucho mejor de lo que creemos, algo que se pudo comprobar en un experimento en el que personas extrañas entablaban una conversación para después dar su opinión sobre la otra. En estos tiempos de división, desconfianza y extremismo, hablar con un desconocido puede ser exactamente lo que nos salve.

The Parasite-Stress Theory of Values and Sociality: Infectious Disease, History and Human Values Worldwide

La teoría de los valores y la socialidad del estrés parásito: Enfermedades infecciosas, historia y valores humanos en todo el mundo

Las pruebas que presentamos en nuestro libro indican que tanto una amplia gama de asuntos humanos como los principales aspectos de la diversidad cultural humana pueden entenderse a la luz del estrés de los parásitos variables (enfermedades infecciosas) y la gama de sistemas de valores evocados por el estrés de los parásitos variables. La misma evidencia apoya la hipótesis de que las personas tienen adaptaciones psicológicas que funcionan para adoptar valores dependientes de la adversidad local de enfermedades infecciosas. 

Mistakenly seeking solitude

Buscando erróneamente la soledad

El placer de la conexión parece contagioso: en la sala de espera de un laboratorio, los participantes con los que se habló tuvieron experiencias tan positivas como los que se les instruyó para que hablaran (Experimento 5). Los seres humanos son animales sociales. Aquellos que malinterpretan las consecuencias de las interacciones sociales pueden, al menos en algunos contextos, no ser lo suficientemente sociales para su propio bienestar.

Separate Neural Systems Value Prosocial Behaviors and Reward: An ALE Meta-Analysis

Los sistemas neuronales separados valoran los comportamientos prosociales y la recompensa: Un meta-análisis de ALE

Estos hallazgos sugieren que los comportamientos prosociales son diferentes de la recompensa e implican mecanismos cerebrales específicos.

Brain Oxytocin is a Main Regulator of Prosocial Behaviour - Link to Psychopathology

La oxitocina cerebral es el principal regulador de la conducta prosocial - Enlace con psicopatologías

En general se supone que las psicopatologías asociadas a interacciones sociales deficientes, como el autismo, van acompañadas de un deterioro de la actividad del sistema de oxitocina del cerebro, que puede afectar por lo menos a uno de los parámetros mencionados.

Perceived neighbourhood social cohesion and myocardial infarction

La cohesión social percibida en el vecindario y el infarto de miocardio

En un modelo que se ajustó por edad, género, raza, estado civil, educación y riqueza total, cada aumento de la desviación estándar en la cohesión social percibida en el vecindario se asoció con una reducción del 22% de las probabilidades de un infarto de miocardio.

Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Cardiovascular Health

Soledad, aislamiento social y salud cardiovascular

Las probabilidades generales de mortalidad por soledad y aislamiento social son de 1,50, lo que es comparable al tabaquismo ligero y supera los riesgos por obesidad e hipertensión.

The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think?

La brecha de los gustos en las conversaciones: ¿Le gustamos a la gente más de lo que pensamos?

Nuestros estudios sugieren que después de que la gente tiene conversaciones, se les gusta más de lo que saben.


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