Historian Rutger Bregman argues that the persistent theory that most people are monsters is just wrong.
- How have humans managed to accomplish significantly more than any other species on the planet? Historian Rutger Bregman believes the quality that makes us special is that we "evolved to work together and to cooperate on a scale that no other species in the whole animal kingdom has been able to do."
- Pushing back against the millennia-old idea that humans are inherently evil beneath their civilized surface, which is known as 'veneer theory', Bregman says that it's humanity's cooperative spirit and sense of brotherhood that leads us to do cruel deeds. "Most atrocities are committed in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, and in the name of helping your people," he tells Big Think. "That is what's so disturbing."
- The false assumption that people are evil or inherently selfish has an effect on the way we design various elements of our societies and structures. If we designed on the assumption that we are collaborative instead, we could avoid the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of selfishness.
The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.
- A 2020 Michigan State University study examined the link between teen social networks and the levels of depression later in life.
- This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, specifically targeting social network data. The results showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence and declining in early adulthood, then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.
- There are several ways you can attempt to stay active and socially connected while battling depression, according to experts.
The study suggested that teenagers who have a smaller social circle showed higher rated of depression later on in life.
A 2020 Michigan State University study examined the link between teen social networks and the levels of depression later in life. The results of this study suggested teens who have a larger number of friends in adolescent years may be less likely to suffer from depression later in life. These findings were especially prominent in women.
This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, specifically targeting social network data. This data asks students to select up to 5 male and 5 female friends and indicate how often they felt depressive symptoms.
MSU Sociology Assistant Professor Molly Copeland and lead author Christina Kamis (Sociology doctoral candidate at Duke University) published the study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in September.
Female teenagers may struggle more with depression during their teen years but show fewer depressive symptoms later in life.
For female adolescents, popularity can lead to increased depression during their teen years. However, this ultimately may lead to lasting benefits of fewer depressive symptoms later in life. "Adolescence (is) a sensitive period of early life when structural facets of social relationships can have lasting mental health consequences," Copeland wrote, adding that "compared to boys, girls face additional risks from how others view their social position in adolescence."
Throughout this study, men showed no association between popularity and depressive symptoms, however, they did show benefits from naming more friends. As for why this is, Copeland has a theory: perhaps the expectations on young girls (compared to young boys) as well as the roles that lead to popularity can create a kind of stress and strain felt more prominently by girls than boys.
While this does create more difficult teen years for young girls, the stress and strain may lead to giving these girls a psychological skillset that benefits them later in life, allowing them to deal with stressful situations more easily.
The study also suggested that teenagers who have a smaller social circle showed higher rates of depression later on in life.
Results from both men and women followed a U-shaped trajectory of depressive symptoms.
The results showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence and declining in early adulthood, then climbing back up again into one's early 30s. This was particularly more noticeable in women, who showed a steeper decline in symptoms between the ages of 18-26, followed by a more rapid increase in symptoms in their early 30s.
How to stay social while battling depression
Attending support groups, planning activities with family or even just a weekly phone call to a friend can help alleviate depression.
Credit: Mascha Tace/Shutterstock
Although maintaining relationships can help you cope, it can also be one of the most difficult things to do when you're experiencing depression.
As Dr. Jennifer L. Payne (an assistant professor/co-director of the Women's Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore) tells Everyday Health: "One of the common symptoms of depression is social isolation."
Payne goes on to explain that you can "soak up some energy" by simply being around other people, moving around, and staying active.
Creating a daily schedule and planning activities ensures action.
While it may be easy to turn down last-minute plans, it's more difficult to cancel plans you've already committed to with friends and family. While it's important not to overwhelm yourself with a packed schedule, creating a minimal daily schedule that involves seeing friends and family or doing activities that you've previously enjoyed can ensure you stay active and often makes you feel more accomplished at the end of each day.
Support groups and social networking with people who understand.
While depression can very easily make you feel isolated and alone, surrounding yourself with others who may be struggling with depression as well can help in multiple ways. You will have peer support from people who relate to how you're feeling plus the added benefit of being around people, which can raise your spirits.
Keeping a journal (and setting goals) can help you feel accomplished.
Keep a thought journal and detail certain daily or weekly goals (such as a plan to call a friend on Monday or to visit your local coffee shop for a change of scenery on Thursday). These small, achievable goals not only get you out of the house and/or interacting with others, but they also provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction once they are complete.
Random acts of kindness, such as volunteering, will make you feel good.
Being kind is good for your health in many different ways. Doing something nice for others can boost your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Similar to exercise, kindness, and altruism can also release endorphins, creating a temporary sense of euphoria that can help combat depressive symptoms.
Despite being raised in a screen-lit world, today's children make and maintain friendships as well as past generations.
- The dominate cultural assumption claims screen time devastates children's social skills.
- A recent study in the American Journal of Sociology suggests today's children are as socially skilled as the preceding peers.
- Parents need to set screen limits, but research shows they should set limits for themselves, too.
Every good parent has a worrier in them. They worry whether their children are eating right, staying safe, enjoying school, building self-esteem, maintaining supportive relationships, developing good habits, and brushing their teeth well—well, good enough at least.
Lucky for today's parents, older generations have performed the trial runs and scientific studies for many of these concerns. Such research and folk knowledge can provide guidance as they have already weeded out many of the bad practices from generations farther back. There is a notable exception: screen time.
The first members of Gen Z are only now entering adulthood. Educators, pundits, and specialists—many parents themselves—worry this cohort has become socially stunted due to their increased interaction with, and reliance upon, devices for everything from education to entertainment.
But a recent study published in the American Journal of Sociology suggests this concern is overblown.
Screening the evidence
Douglas Downey, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, wanted to test the pervasive cultural concern that today's children suffer from poorer social skills. He teamed up with Benjamin Gibbs, associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, and they did what good sociologists do: They analyzed the best available data.
That data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a program overseen by the National Center for Education Statistics. Each of the program's studies follows a generational cohort from kindergarten to at least fifth grade. It asks teachers, parents, and administrators to assess children on their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development at home and in school. Teachers assess the students six times from the start of kindergarten to the end of fifth grade, while parents assess their children three times from the beginning of kindergarten to first grade.
Downey and Gibbs compared the data for the class of 1998-99 (19,150 students) and 2010-11 (13,400 students) because, despite both cohorts falling under the Gen Z label, each was raised in wildly different technological worlds.
The year 2010 saw the release of the iPad, the spread of 4G networks, and the launch of the social media decade. But in 1998, screen time was restricted to home-bound TVs and desktop computers—unless you count the endless hours playing Snake on your Nokia 5110.
Despite these dissimilarities, Downey and Gibbs found little variance in how teachers and parents evaluated the children's social skills.
"In virtually every comparison we made, either social skills stayed the same or actually went up modestly for the children born later," Downey said in a release. "There's very little evidence that screen exposure was problematic for the growth of social skills."
Teachers and parents rated children similarly on self-control, interpersonal skills, the ability to form friendships, and how they handled diversity—even after accounting for factors like screen time use and family makeup. Within the cohorts, social skill trajectories remained similar for heavy-use children as lighter use.
The only exception proved children who accessed online gaming or social networking sites many times a day. These children's excessive screen time did lead to a slightly lower evaluation of social skills.
"Do as I say, not as I do"
Despite concern over kids' screen time, parents can spend up to 9 hours a day on digital devices.
Yet, a predominant social assumption is that screen time makes children socially inept. Common sense views screen time as a blue-lit security blanket, a place for children to tuck themselves away from the difficulties of navigating social reality. Unable to interact face-to-face, these children grow to become adult recluses who'll probably live in a trailer lit dimly only by a lone computer monitor.
It's a view expressed by Victoria Dunckley, M.D. and author of "Reset Your Child's Brain," where she writes, "The more a child hides behind a screen, the more socially awkward he or she becomes, creating a self-perpetuating cycle."
Where does this perspective come from if teachers and parents evaluate today's children as socially competent as their pre-iPad predecessors? Downey attributes it to classic moralizing.
"The introduction of telephones, automobiles, radio all led to moral panic among adults of the time because the technology allowed children to enjoy more autonomy," he said. "Fears over screen-based technology likely represent the most recent panic in response to technological change."
There's the classic parental double-standard to consider, too. While our culture worries over children's screen time, parents spare much less thought on how their media use may degrade their relationships and social skills.
By one survey's count, parents spend a staggering nine hours per day glued to their screens. Roughly three-quarters of that time is for personal, non-work use. Of those surveyed, 78 percent believed they were "good media use role models for their kids," the very kids they worry spend too much time on their screens.
Developing a media plan
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a healthy family media plan includes setting limits and parental engagement.
Screen time may not harm children's social development as much as we fear, but that's obviously not carte blanche for limitless digital distractions. Children's minds and bodies are still developing, and other studies have correlated excessive screen time with deleterious effects on sleep patterns, physical health, and language development.
In a policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) acknowledges the educational value of managed, well-designed screen time for young children. But its authors similarly acknowledge health and developmental concerns when it comes to content and excessive use.
To help parents out, the association recommends families create a media-use plan to prevent media from displacing other important activities. A good media plan should set limits, promote parent engagement, and incorporate tech-free zones but resist using screens as "emotional pacifiers."
Such media plans must be appropriate to a child's age, too. Teenagers use the internet to build relationships and explore their place in social networks, while younger children may need it more as a place of fun, educational escapism. Parents should also do their research as many programs marketed as educational are anything but.
"If used appropriately, [digital media is] wonderful," Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Media Center in Minneapolis, told NPR. "We don't want to demonize media, because it's going to be a part of everybody's lives increasingly, and we have to teach children how to make good choices around it, how to limit it, and how to make sure it's not going to take the place of all the other good stuff out there."
Downey and Gibbs's study doesn't suggest parents don't need to worry about balancing screen time with face-to-face interactions. It does, however, suggest that parents are doing a better job than they may think and can worry less—though, of course, they probably won't.
Good relationship capital can change your business forever, explains Shark Tank investor Daymond John.
- Relationship capital is one of the most overlooked facets of doing good business, says investor and entrepreneur Daymond John.
- Savvy entrepreneurs know that digging into the relationships that they've nurtured for 5, 10, or 20 years is what pays the best dividends. That doesn't happen passively. You must build your reputation and take great care to be authentic in your interactions, says John.
- Relationship capital is symbiotic and becomes a network. When two parties genuinely look after each other over the long term, that goodwill spreads across both their networks and brings tens or hundreds of new transactions instead of just one initial deal.
Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?
- The clamor of the crowd during a heated discussion can make it hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. Adam Smith wrote that the loudness of blame can stupefy our good judgment.
- Equally, when we're talking with just one other person, our previous assumptions and knee-jerk reactions can cloud our good judgment.
- If you want to find clarity in moments like that, Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person's intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.
I recently returned to Beloit College, where I taught for nearly 20 years before moving on to Washington College and the Institute for Humane Studies. Slated to speak on the topic of campus speech at an institution still wrestling with its own speech-related controversy, I was somewhat nervous.
I needn't have been.
Perhaps it was the bookish title of my talk -- "Conversational Ethics: What Would Adam Smith Have Us Do?" Perhaps I still had some street cred on campus. Or perhaps folks were simply worn out. But no one came loaded for bear.
Adam Smith suggests we imagine an 'impartial spectator' to help us find clarity and weigh our responses in difficult times.
Smith has a lot to teach us about the ethics of conversation, particularly when public discourse becomes acrimonious. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he observed that the "violence and injustice of faction" tests us in ways that the ordinary "bustle of business in the world" does not. He writes, "The violence and loudness with which blame is sometimes poured out upon us seems to stupify and benumb our natural sense of praise-worthiness and blame-worthiness." In other words, the clamor of the crowd can make it hard to tell right from wrong.
Smith counsels that to prepare ourselves for the prospect of unjust condemnation, we must gain practice at viewing our beliefs and conduct not from the vantage point of the crowd but from the perspective of a well-informed impartial judge. If this imagined "impartial spectator" approves of our stance, then we are justified in ignoring the clamor. With practice, we become wiser and more accustomed to summoning the "self-command" we need to stand tall in the face of injustice.
But a sophomore in the audience recognized that this advice only helps the speaker. It doesn't stop us from being part of the unjust crowd. He asked, "What can we do, in practical terms, to keep the conversation positive?"
It was one of those moments when a dozen possible answers come to mind, but the voice in your head says, "Pick one!" The words that came out of my mouth were, "We could all do a better job of assuming good faith." Then the voice said, "Why did you pick that one?"
As soon as I said it, I realized that the 19-year-old asking the question might not know what I meant by such an old-fashioned phrase. I realized too late that though I use the phrase frequently, I had not thought through a full explanation of its meaning. As I started to unpack it in the moment, I realized what a potent concept it is and how far we have drifted from it.
"A presumption of good faith demands a lot from us. It requires that we suspend judgment long enough to ask questions in a spirit of openness and curiosity."
Assuming good faith means that we expect that our conversation partner is interested in learning from us and is seeking to understand our point of view. It means that we should assume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that their intent is not to deceive or to offend. We can certainly point out when an error has been made or why offense has been taken, but it should be with the intent of making the conversation better, not closing it down.
A presumption of good faith demands a lot from us. It requires that we suspend judgment long enough to ask questions in a spirit of openness and curiosity. If the student in the audience and I disagree, I should focus first on figuring out why it is that he and I draw different conclusions even though we are looking at the same world. Perhaps there's something in his history, or mine, that led us to different places.
Good faith means that I should take my time to thoughtfully consider his perspective before I decide to praise it or condemn it. But time for thoughtful consideration seems to have fallen out of fashion. As we saw in the Covington Catholic story -- in which a viral video clip inspired many to signal their disgust for a group of teenage boys accused of racism and disrespect, only to learn later that the story was far more complicated -- we feel pressure to be the first to signal our moral commitments to the world. We fear that if we take our time we will be seen as being complicit with wrongdoing. So, we take shortcuts. We bypass the hard work of moral reasoning, and instead praise or condemn based on factional affiliation.
But through the cracks of the political divide we are also seeing positive examples emerge. University of Michigan students Kate Westa and Brett Zaslavsky, for example, lead WeListen, a bipartisan club dedicated to civil cross-ideological debate. At the national level, StoryCorps' One Small Step is facilitating one-on-one conversations in which people who disagree listen and respond to one another with respect. This is good faith in practice.
Arguably, there are exceptions to when we are expected to assume good faith. If we extend this and other conversational courtesies to incendiary speakers who gain prominence by violating those same courtesies, it is out of grace, not entitlement. We are obliged to respect their First Amendment rights but nothing more.
Incendiary speakers, however, are the exception. And we shouldn't base our ethical standards on the exception. Our default should be the presumption of good faith.
The practice of good faith is not an obvious remedy. It's a difficult discipline. It offers none of the psychic rewards that moral outrage delivers. But it's a practice that keeps the conversation going. And it's a practice that allows everyone in the conversation to teach and to learn.