A doctor has warned that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are reducing the amount of time that people spend in real face-to-face contact with others, possibly leading to an increase in serious health risks such as cancer or dementia.
Writing in Biologist, the journal of the Institute of Biology, Dr. Aric Sigman references the importance of oxytocin – ‘the cuddle chemical’, in how our bodies and minds respond to social interaction. Apparently, the hormonal changes (including production of oxytocin) and other chemical reactions going on inside our bodies are less when interacting ‘virtually’ such as on social networking sites or via e-mail.
As readers of this blog will know, the production of oxytocin in the body has been linked to a reduction in stress levels, particularly through it’s relationship to cortisol, a key stress hormone. If less face-to-face contact means less oxytocin, it’s not implausible to speculate that substituting real social interaction for the virtual sort, might indeed be damaging to one’s health.
I wonder if Dr. Sigman would consider communication via webcam might count a little more as ‘real’ social interraction. Also, what about the many people suffering from social anxiety problems who find too much real interraction to be damagingly stressful? It’s also interesting to note that several years ago, Dr. Sigman apparently also warned that watching television for just a few minutes a day might damage brain cells and lead to dementia. Nethertheless, the Doctor’s claim, and its wide exposure in today’s headlines, is another example of how oxytocin is becoming firmly associated with social and physical well-being.