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Image: Niclas Kaiser

Psychology/Social neuroscience

Participatory sensemaking and shared intentionality. All a human social ability through perceptual crossing and social breathing. Multi-brain-body networks, Moments of meeting, Brain-to-brain coupling, authenticity, individual and relational development. Play. Experience. Aesthetics. Biologically underpinned.

Being close, central for human social life

There are many terms to describe the unique experience of when two or more people are psychologically present at the same time, together. An infant and its parent, or two adults meeting for the first time, as children together in play. For example, we use concepts such as psychological closeness, intersubjectivity, interpresence and shared intentionality.

Man's ability to cooperate and be in interaction is incredible, and it is in many ways more important than our other so-called higher cognitive abilities. Interaction with others was not only central to human evolution, it also seems to be important for developing as a person and for developing relationships. But how can we understand and study the most basic processes of interactions in interpresence?

We can feel if we are psychologically close

We can imagine that interaction in here-and-now situations can be experienced, man seems to have an immediate sense of when it is happening and not, just as in several other evolutionarily important processes such as being hungry, or freezing. Everyone can feel how it feels when the person you are talking to shifts their attention to their smartphone. The feeling of being more alone in the room. And several different psychological research areas have pointed out that the ability to be close is also important for understanding what happens in psychotherapy, or in work relationships, and autism.

A multi body/brain-network between the involved persons

The question is how to study this phenomenon. What has happened is that technological development has made it possible to study the brain and body even when it is interacting with others, and at the same time AI-driven quantitative methods are being developed to understand enormously complex processes. And right now, several research areas are going through a change from studying relatively simple relationships (which does not work in the long run) to allowing a variety of variables. In addition, it has been pointed out that research in social neuropsychology is fragmented and has failed to yield useful results. But theoretically, the perceived separation in the presence of another should also mean that one is more neurologically separated, and if one succeeds in identifying useful signs of dynamic body / brain to body / brain coupling exclusively in simultaneous interaction, and the experience of closeness, yes it could be really important. Not only to help parents, therapists and managers work with relationships, but also to know more about what closeness means for our health and quality of life.

Online can be more effective, but something human gets lost

Namely, there is a parallel area, many professional relations are moved from being co-located to taking place online. And even though several of these take place in video calls, it seems to be something that is missed when you do not meet in the same room. But to psychologically understand what this consists of  is difficult. It seems that video conferencing in therapy, at work and teaching works well in many ways, or even better. For example, you become more work-oriented and straightforward. But at the same time there is the feeling that something is missing. Less closeness, more seclusion, less we-feeling. Theoretically, it is reasonable, because the social survival system necessary for human survival does not aim to solve problems, or achieve a concrete result. We can do this with our higher cognitive, consciously controlled and explicit linguistic abilities. That other thing, psychological closeness and we-creation, which we can not help but do, which also disturbs many encounters with its messy and almost incomprehensible process, it seems to be missed. And that system is based on the need to do things together, to be together, which when it works gives a sense of belonging, to be one of others, to be seen for real. And not feeling it,  it is the feeling of loneliness and isolation that can serve as a sign that it is not as it should be, and also common experiences in modern mental health problems.

Effectiveness is modern i culture and research, new research on the inefficient but necessary nearness is needed

The thing is that in many ways we live in a time where we have developed great knowledge about health, psychotherapy and learning, and this is done with measures of, for example, disease symptoms, techniques for its relief and learning goals. And online learning/ treatment seems to fit well in these contemporary demands, because it is effective in relation to symptom relief and achieving learning goals. But online meetings also seem to pinpoint that other thing. Since research has focused on concrete goals, It then easily misses the hard-to-study but easy-to-experience process behind the basic human need for closeness, reciprocity and we-feeling. Something that probably not only affects health and experience in the moment, but also our development over time, both as individuals and as relationships.

But since we do not really understand what is happening, or how it should be studied, well then it is a bit difficult to say what it means in the long run. That is where our research strives. And that is why all available means, methods and disciplines are needed.

Latest update: 2022-05-30