The Importance of Small Social Interactions

In 1973, Stanford sociology professor Mark Granovetter—one of the pioneers of social network theory—published an influential paper entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties.”

He argued that “in social networks, you have different kinds of links, or ties, to other people. Strong ties are characterized as deep affinity; for example family, friends, or colleagues,” Everett Harper explained on Tech Crunch. “Weak ties, in contrast, might be acquaintances, or a stranger with a common cultural background. The point is that the strength of these ties can substantially affect interactions, outcomes, and well-being.”

Granovetter’s insight was that within a network of strong ties, people with weak ties outside the core network are bridges to other networks. Those bridges have access to new and unique information—like job openings—relative to other members of the network with only strong ties.

Psych Congress 2021 co-chair, Charles Raison, MD, and psychotherapist Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC, an adjunct clinical affiliate for the School of Nursing at The University of Texas at Austin, recently discussed the idea of connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic. They highlighted the idea of micro- versus macro-connectivity, and how important even small social interactions are in maintaining overall health and well-being.

Dr. Raison pointed out that Saundra and Rakesh Jain have been researching wellness for the past 25 years, and created WILD 5 Wellness (W5W), “an effective, scientifically-based wellness program designed to increase your overall level of mental wellness.” Wellness activities of the program include exercise, mindfulness, sleep, social connectedness, and nutrition. 

“There’s much to be said for even more passing social connections,” said Raison. Even “how you interact with somebody that is checking out your groceries.” 

Saundra Jain said she had read more recently on the differences between weak and strong social ties. “We coined the phrase micro and macro socialization. There is something very powerful in the checker talking, engaging, but also just passing someone on the street, even with a mask on. They feel the smile. They may not see it, but the eyes brighten. There’s this connection of human-to-human contact that is incredibly powerful.” 

This kind of “micro positivity” is just as important as macro socialization, said Raison. “It adds up. If you’re struggling with major mental illnesses, sometimes it’s hard to get the deeper things. Drawing some nourishment from connections that are maybe not as personal, not as powerful, but they still signal our brains and our bodies in ways that give us a little boost of feeling better.” 

The positive effect of such social interactions is measurable. “The truth of the matter is these are not touchy, feely interventions,” said Dr. Jain. “We’ve got some great neurobiological data. The science behind it is very strong.” 

Colorado Recovery has emphasized the importance of social connections in its groundbreaking approach to mental health treatment for many years. The treatment model developed by our founder Richard Warner is based on a warmer and more human familial setting, comprehensive levels of care that result in a path of self-reliance, and community engagement for connection and a feeling of contribution.

The treatment program at Colorado Recovery aims to empower adults with mental illness, and those who support them, with an unrelenting optimism for recovery, purposeful involvement in the community, and an enhanced sense of meaning in life.

Our treatment facility provides the services needed to address schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses which are specific to each individual. Call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.