Seeing Eye to Eye About Face-to-Face Communication

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on May 15, 2018

Could face-to-face communication be the key to longevity?

Developmental psychologist Susan Pinker believes it is. Her TED Talk about the unusual number of centenarians in Sardinia, Italy, asserts that putting down the smartphone and talking in person with friends, family and colleagues may be the key to not just a happier life, but also a longer one.
 
While the longevity assertion may be up for debate—diet and exercise play an unmistakable role in physical health—Robert Trestman, M.D., Ph.D.,Carilion Clinic’s chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, agrees that in-person communication typically provides benefits that outshine online communication.
 
More and more, though, online communication is the only option. Brick-and-mortar stores are closing as people do their shopping online, so chatting with sales clerks and shopping with friends is less common.

Schools and universities offer educational opportunities via video and downloaded materials so studying together and even raising your hand is less common. And rather than making individual phone calls to catch up with friends, people share their personal information and invitations with hundreds of their “friends” at once on social media.

Pinker asserts that bypassing in-person communication in pursuit of quicker online engagement misses physical and psychological opportunities to connect.

"Making eye contact with somebody, shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress," she said. "And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain."

So are we dooming ourselves to shorter, less happy lives by engaging online? Dr. Trestman doesn’t think so.

“Online communications will potentially be of value, depending upon the emotional value and degree to which the interaction mimics face-to-face communication,” he said.
 
One way online communication offers incomparable value is through telemedicine, which enables rural patients and those with mobility or mental health issues to access regular medical care that they might not have access to in “the real world.”
 
“As always, the answer is complex,” said Dr. Trestman. “Each element contributes to health and longevity.”
 
So don’t worry too much about missing out by connecting with friends and family online when you can’t get together in person. But when you do have a choice, put down the phone and opt for talking face to face.