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Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
This is one of countless studies that prove the positive impact of social connection and intimacy while highlighting the negative impact of isolation and separation.
- New research, led by behavioral neuroscience assistant professor Zoe Donaldson explores what drives our mammalian instinct to create lasting bonds - and what exactly happens when we are apart from people we share those bonds with.
- Studying prairie voles (who fall under the 3-5% of mammals who, along with humans, are monogamous), Donaldson and her team discovered a unique set of cluster cells that light up when reunited with a mate after a period of separation.
- This study is just the tip of new developing research that could lead to groundbreaking new therapies for individuals who struggle with these types of connections, including people with autism, people who struggle with mood disorders, etc.
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI3ODczOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTcxNTk2OH0.D4ZtpGSa45kObkdottIAHfo7kUZOEgTYqRIa5W0BfGU/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C96%2C0%2C91&height=700" id="0d827" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e6ea238ddf65b931264da4f544cc0499" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="two prairie voles concept of mating for life monogamous mammals" />
This research ground lead to new therapies for individuals who struggle with this kind of emotional connection.
Photo by torook on Shutterstock<p><strong></strong><strong>Donaldson and her team used tiny cameras and a new technology called in-vivo-calcium imaging to analyze the brains of prairie voles at three separate times:</strong></p><ol><li>During their first encounter with another vole </li><li>Three days after mating with another vole</li><li>20 days after living in the same area as the mate </li></ol> <p>When the voles were together in the same area, their brains looked and reacted the same way. However, after separating the voles, it was discovered that a unique cluster of cells in the nucleus accumbens fired up when they were reunited. </p> <p>In fact, the study proved that the longer the voles had been paired before being separated, the closer their bond became and the glowing cluster that lit up became stronger during their reunion. </p> <p>It's interesting to note that a whole different cluster of cells lit up upon them being introduced to a stranger vole, suggesting that these specific cells may actually be there for the purpose of forming and maintaining bonds with others. </p> <p>This study confirms that monogamous mammals (voles and humans alike) are very uniquely hard-wired to mate with others. We have a unique biological drive that urges us to reunite with people we care for, and this drive can be one of the reasons we fall under the 3-5% of mammals that seek out monogamy. </p><p><strong>What does this mean for the future of human behavior studies?</strong></p><p>As far as research goes, this is quite groundbreaking - as this could potentially give us insight into various kinds of therapies for individuals who are autistic or individuals who struggle with severe depression and/or other disorders that make these kinds of emotional connections difficult.</p> <p>There is still much to learn about these specific series of events that happens when we're reunited with a mate after a period of separation. For example, it's unclear if this "neuronal code", so to speak, is associated with emotion in humans the same way it is associated with desire in voles. </p> <p>According to Donaldson, the research in this department is only just beginning, and the definitive outcome of this study is that mammals are quite literally hardwired to be monogamous mammals. </p>
Social connection and intimacy is essential to our growth and development<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98492a9dd13c8d8f0ec1e31af0250b8d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-jedL7qSxOU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This isn't the first time a study like this has been conducted, even though this particular study has unveiled new neuronal clusters that had not been previously accounted for.</p> <p>There have been many other studies of mammals (from small rodents all the way up to human beings) that suggest we are not only hardwired to seek out intimate connections through monogamy, but that we are also extremely and profoundly shaped by (and perhaps even dependent upon) the experiences we have with those mates. </p> <p><a href="https://www.liherald.com/stories/the-power-of-human-connection,102632" target="_blank">Brene Brown</a>, a University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (who specializes in social connection), explains:</p> <p><em>"A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs aren't met, we don't function as we were meant to</em>." </p> <p>This idea is backed up by countless studies, including Dr. Helen Fischer's <a href="https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain/love-and-brain" target="_blank">revolutionary study back in 2005</a>, which included the very first fMRI images of "the brain in love". </p> <p>This study concluded that the human brain doesn't just work to amplify positive emotions when we experience <a href="https://bigthink.com/sex-relationships/breakup-neuroscience?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1" target="_self">romantic love</a>, but that the neural pathways responsible for negative emotions (such as fear and anxiety) are actually deactivated. </p>
Someday, presumably, we'll go back to our lives. Our furry buddies will wonder where we went.
- It's great we're getting to enjoy so much more time with our animals, but we may be setting them up for heartbreak.
- Dogs and, yes, even cats may experience separation anxiety when we finally leave our homes at the end of lockdown.
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has some suggestions for preparing our pets for that transition one day.
The good thing about quarantine is that it forces us to spend more quality time with our loved ones. That includes our pets, who must be wondering why we never leave anymore. Still, all the extra contact, affection, and cuddling are probably making our pets happier than ever.
One day, though, this will come to an end, and something resembling normal will reassert itself. Off we'll go back to our jobs, leaving our sweet companions to wonder where everyone went.
Dog behavior specialist Janelle Metiva notes, "Most pets don't like sudden and abrupt changes. Instead, try starting now to get your pet ready and ease them back to your previously 'normal' routine more easily."
Metiva works for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which has put together some advice on how to prepare our pets for the inevitable separation anxiety that will one day, someday, surely come. It's something to think about now, before our lockdowns end.
We'll have to work out our own separation anxiety.
What would this separation anxiety look like?
Image source: BoulderPhoto/Shutterstock
Telltale signs of separation anxiety might be:
- Unwarranted barking, howling, or whining, particularly for longer than 30 seconds, when you leave
- Scratching or chewing at entrances and exits, including doors and windows
- Destructive behavior when the pet is left alone
- Over-grooming or other self-harm or obsessive behaviors
- A change in appetite.
Advice for dog owners
Image source: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
If only the average person were as nice as the average dog. Sigh. In any event, Metiva suggests a handful of things you can do top prepare your soft-hearted bud for your departure.
- Create a safe, comfortable place where they can have peaceful, relaxing alone time. This could be a crate or a separate room. Just make sure it's in the quietest part of the house.
- Provide them with enrichment that can be enjoyed independently, such as hidden treats in boxes, food puzzles, stuffed Kongs, etc.
- Play soothing music such as reggae, smooth jazz, or classical, or turn on stations like the BBC or NPR while you're gone to keep them from being startled by outside noises. You can also try a white-noise machine.
- Reward your dog for calm, independent behavior (especially if they're usually clingy). We tend to pay attention to dogs only when they're active or even misbehaving. They should be rewarded for being calm and chill.
It's also a good idea to practice when you go out on an errand or for exercise. If:
- your dog shows signs of panic, decrease the amount of time that you leave, even if for just a few seconds.
- your dog barks or paws at the door when you leave, come back only when they're quiet.
- your dog has trouble being alone for even brief periods of time, consult a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) who may be able to help via a virtual consultation.
Advice for cat owners
Image source: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
We wouldn't go so far as to say cats' typical seeming indifference is an act, quite, but it can be misleading — and it's exacerbated by their lack of facial expressions. They do care, and if they're often not obvious in their affection, it's no coincidence that they tend to somehow quietly always stay close by. We're not telling most cat owners something they don't already know here.
As Best Friends' cat behavior specialist Samantha Bell puts it, "Despite stereotypes that say otherwise, many cats form very close bonds with their humans and can become quite stressed when apart." In general, she says, "Practicing confidence-building activities and having an enriching environment can help prevent this."
Bell suggests trying the following to help your feline adjust to your absence:
- Engage your cat with a wand toy, shown above, at least once a day. Allowing your cat the opportunity to hunt, catch and kill with an interactive toy will help build their confidence and strengthen their bond with you in the healthiest way possible.
- Ensure that whatever adjustments you've made to their routine while you're home are sustainable when you go back to work. If you've started feeding your cats four times a day while you're home, start cutting it back to what is doable when you're not working from home.
- If you're not already using them, introduce puzzle-feeders to your cat. Cats instinctively want to forage for their food and puzzle-feeders satisfy that instinct while providing fantastic enrichment during alone time.
- Cats feed off from people's emotions. So, when it's time to go back to work, making a big, sad, dramatic scene as you leave is only going to make them feel more stressed. A happy, light tone, and a little treat as you leave will keep their spirits up.
Addicted to love
More time with our pets is for many of us a real gift, an opportunity to shower them with all the attention we don't normally have the time to bestow. We get as much out of it as they do. Love, however, also means caring about someone else's welfare. A little extra thought now can help ensure that this period of closeness leaves our animals happier even after we've gone back to our usual daily nonsense.
What a group of orphaned elephants can teach us about emotion and learned social skills.
- Empathy is defined as the act of recognizing, understanding, and being sensitive to the feelings and experiences of others.
- Sharing a story about young elephants at a nature preserve, William Shatner argues that empathy is a learned skill, not an inherited trait.
- "That has to be learned, and I don't think it's any different from a boy to a girl. You have to walk in the shoes to experience what the other person is experiencing."
A study looks at the chemistry of couples engaged in different activities.
- Leisure activities can help release more oxytocin, say researchers.
- Oxytocin is a hormone linked to social and sexual interaction.
- Couples who took art classes and played board games together released oxytocin.
(Photo credit Karen Melton)<p>Along with Melton, the study was co-authored with child and family studies professor <strong>Maria Boccia</strong>. Their research involved 20 couples aged 25–40. The couples had to go on one-hour dates which included game nights and art classes. One group played games in a home-like environment.</p><p>Among the games were Monopoly, cards, checkers, chess, puzzles, word games and even dominoes, while the art classes involved painting a beach scene with the couple's initials in the sand.</p><p>How did they measure oxytocin, you ask? Via urine samples, taken before and after the various date nights.</p><p>A survey of 6 items measures the communication and contact levels of the couples.</p>