Why social connections really are a matter of life and death

America's loneliness epidemic must be confronted. There's much to be gained by fostering social connectivity, from boosting our immune systems to potentially reducing extremism.

Andrew Horn: The reason that I’m so passionate about conversation and meaningful communication is because of this thing called the connection crisis. And I am not being hyperbolic when I call it a crisis.

So AARP did a study in 1970 and they found out that 20 percent of their members identified as being lonely. They did that same study again in 2010, and the number had more than doubled to 45 percent—45 percent of their members that were identifying as lonely.

So the General Social Survey came out a few years ago and it found out that the most common response when people were asked, “How many friends do you have?”—wait for it—zero. Zero. That number has tripled over recent decades. Imagine going through life without a single confidant. And this dearth of relationships is not just making us sad, it’s literally making us sick. It is killing us. Because what happens when we have weak social ties? We have increased inflammation; it decreases the body’s natural immune response.

There was a recent meta-analysis of 300,000 patients and it found that having weak social ties was as harmful to your health as being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as having obesity. So these wild things are happening, but so often people are left to their own devices to figure out how to communicate, how to connect.

We spend 15 years studying something like social studies and we don’t even spend 15 minutes on social skills.

And communication is the fundamental building block of creating these important relationships, which are so important for our personal lives and also our professional success. So that’s why we need to be intentional about communication, because with a little bit of practice and a little bit of focus anyone can connect more deeply with the people they meet and the people they love.

And when you think about that, if you don’t have friends that is what opens you up for extremism; it’s that when you don’t belong you will do anything to belong, you know what I mean? So that's why providing frameworks for people to connect is such a vital thing.

In the last few decades, the number of close friendships in America has dropped. Between 1985 and 2004, the General Social Survey reported that the average number of confidants Americans felt they could talk to about important matters in their lives fell from 2.94 to 2.08. Worse still, 25% of people surveyed responded with "zero". Andrew Horn, CEO and co-founder of Tribute, calls this the connection crisis: "This dearth of relationships is not just making us sad, it’s literally making us sick," he says. "There was a recent meta-analysis of 300,000 patients and it found that having weak social ties was as harmful to your health as being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as having obesity." To turn this worrying trend around, Horn hopes we can become more intentional about communication. Social skills are foundational to our success, both personal and professional; why don't we teach it in schools at the same time as other core skills like math, science, and English? The benefits go beyond our personal wellbeing; Horn believes it could make society safer. "If you don’t have friends, that is what opens you up for extremism. It’s that when you don’t belong you will do anything to belong," Horn says. Andrew Horn is the CEO and co-founder of Tribute.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.