Social Relationships Protect Your Brain

09 February, 2021
Social relationships, more particularly your close circle of friends, can protect you against certain health threats.

Humans are social animals. In fact, social relationships are responsible for all the progress humans have made to date. This concerns culture, civilizations, the generation of knowledge, etc. However, you also need these social relationships at a more basic level.

You forge your personality within your social relationships. Furthermore, you meet your personal goals through social relationships. They nourish your basic needs. You need physical contact, intimacy, and the feeling of belonging to a group. This gives you security and reassurance.

Social support protects you from all kinds of disorders. Indeed, a lack of social relationships or social isolation is closely linked to psychological distress and certain illnesses. Therefore, you need social relationships for your development. They also benefit your brain. In fact, the benefits to your brain are outstanding. Amazingly, they actually delay the onset of cognitive decline.

Two friends laughing.

Cognitive reserve

Your brain is plastic. It has the ability to modify itself in order to work better. Furthermore, it has the ability to adapt to new circumstances, such as brain damage. Cognitive reserve is related to this concept of neuroplasticity.

Cognitive reserve concerns your brain’s ability to tolerate or delay the onset of certain pathological symptoms. These might be due to age or some particular illness such as Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed, with greater cognitive reserve, these particular symptoms will appear later or more gradually.

Activities, like engaging in stimulating hobbies, mastering two or more languages, acquiring new knowledge, and playing sports, help keep your brain active. In fact, all of these activities improve your capacity for cognitive reserve.

Social relationships

Having social interactions and maintaining a network of friends is linked to numerous health factors. For example, people who are active socially suffer a lower rate of depression and incidence of illness. In addition, their immune system works better and they have a lower risk of a heart attack.

It seems that your social relationships also enrich your life intellectually. Furthermore, having a rich social life challenges you cognitively. For instance, when you talk with others. This is because you have to attend to what the other person is saying to you, as well as remember other information.

In addition, relating with others also means you might conflict with others. This improves your problem-solving abilities. Furthermore, making plans, setting goals, and anticipating reactions from others give you the possibility to improve your executive functions.

A happy group of friends, showing the importance of social relationships.

Protecting the brain

It’s been argued that social relations contribute to an increase in your cognitive reserve. Several studies have proved this. For example, Bennet et al. found that the size of your social network modulates the association between your cognitive performance and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it was found that Alzheimer’s sufferers with more social contact experienced less deterioration.

Social relationships also bring other benefits that indirectly protect your brain. We know that stress can be dangerous for both your body and brain. However, social relationships offer you new perspectives, emotional support, and the possibility of making plans. Therefore, they’re a tremendous help in dealing with stress. For instance, who doesn’t feel better after spending an afternoon with a good friend?

Similarly, the quantity and quality of social relations are linked to a lower level of depression. Indeed, depression is associated with worse cognitive performances and the risk of dementia.

In addition to everything we mentioned earlier, social relationships help you maintain a more active and healthy lifestyle. In fact, one study suggests that, when you interact with others, you tend to adapt to social norms. Furthermore, you engage in healthier activities. Therefore, understandably, both your brain and your cognitive abilities benefit when you have a healthy lifestyle.

  • Bassuk, S., Glass, T., & Berkman, L. (1999). Social disengagement and incident cognitive decline in community-dwelling elderly persons. Annals of Internal Medicine, 131(3), 220–221.
  • Eriksson, D. (2015). The influence of social relationships and leisure activity on adult cognitive functioning and risk of dementia: longitudinal population-based Studies (Tesis doctoral). Universidad de Umea, Suecia.
  • Ybarra, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, M. C., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriguez, J. (2008). Mental exercising through simple socializing: social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(2), 248–259.