008 - Grey Abbey Sunrise beauty (2)This week I read an article in the Toronto Star – Socialization could be the key to a healthy brain (Christine Sismondo, Dec 7/21).

This is a report on a presentation by neurologist, Dr Lesley Fellows at McGill University’s Trottier Public Science Symposium- “Optimizing Brain Health”. She says:

“One of the things that’s really good for a person’s brain is inter-acting socially……Our brains are made for that and it really drives plasticity, since a lot of the brain is engaged with social interaction, because you have to imagine what the [other] person is thinking and respond to their subtle cues and that’s very dynamic.”

Also,

“There’s some pretty good evidence that people’s sense of belonging to communities protects their mental health…..And others have found that loneliness and social isolation influence how well people perform in cognitive tests, for example, so it’s entirely likely that these things are better for your brain.”

Now I wouldn’t say anything if this piece admitted that ‘socialization’ is a two-way street, that for some people it is sometimes highly stressful and cognitively detrimental. But in this fairly lengthy article there is no mention of that.

For example, children, and sometimes adults, who suffer from selective mutism are unable to talk in a social setting though they can talk glibly at home. I suffered from this as a boy at school, and there was no question about what caused it – being surrounded by other people.

The author does mention in passing that people also do such things for their brains as crossword puzzles, taking food supplements, going for walks, reading, etc. She admits that learning language has been found helpful for ‘neuroplasticity’, but suggests that maybe “this has more to do with the social connection we get in the classroom than verb declension.”

I think of my wife in her last year with Alzheimer’s. If she could speak one-to-one with someone it was usually good for her, but the presence of multiple people highly stressed her. Hospital or doctor visits automatically put her blood pressure up.

But reading, as long as she was able to read, always calmed her. And I know there is research confirming that reading is good for neuroplasticity. Alzheimer literature is always high on reading. Yet reading is not social – we read alone, rarely in groups.

Again, there isn’t a word here about the detrimental effects of high stress in workplaces. Yet it would be hard to find more socialization than you get there. People who are shy and solitary, and/or autistic, suffer badly in workplaces.

When in the 1970’s they invented the office ‘cubicle’, introverts and people on the spectrum (though the spectrum wasn’t recognized yet) breathed a sigh of relief. Now offices are moving back to ‘open concept.’

What’s good for some people sometimes, isn’t always good for everyone all the time.

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