Watch Alone Together

Written by: The Exchange

Human beings are social creatures by nature. Even the more introverted among us instinctually enjoy the simple pleasure of gathering. Indeed, there is ample research to demonstrate that strong social connections are directly related to good health. Conversely, it is increasingly clear that social isolation and loneliness can lead to higher rates of mortality, depression, and cognitive decline. Startling research from AARP showed that more than a third of adults aged 45 and older report being lonely. The serious risks of social isolation have become suddenly relevant to an even wider population as the world has been forced to quarantine. The essential public health measure of social distancing – a phrase that most of us had never heard of or used before this year – quickly severed many of the ties that bind us. What does this mean for our health and well-being? Are Zoom dance parties and virtual happy hours enough to carry us through this period of enforced isolation? Learn more from three experts whose work provides us with a better understanding of how to cope in these uncertain times.


Julianne Holt-Lunstad is a Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University. Her research examines the influence of both the quantity and the quality of social relationships on long-term health and on risk for mortality, and the biological pathways (cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, genetic) by which these associations may occur. Her work also considers the potentially detrimental influence of negativity in close relationships. Julianne has examined social relationships at a network level, among married couples, in mother-and-infant relationships, and within friendships.

Diana Tamir is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She uses functional neuroimaging, behavioral techniques, and machine learning to study the cognitive and neural basis of self-referential thought and social behaviors. To better understand the world of the “self”, Diana studies the thoughts, cognitive processes, and behaviors that occur at the place where our internal world meets the external social world. She employ methods like functional neuroimaging, machine learning, and behavioral experiments to gain empirical insights into questions about the self and the social world.

Jay Van Bavel is an Associate Professor of Psychology & Neural Science at New York University, an affiliate at the Stern School of Business in Management and Organizations, and Director of the Social Perception and Evaluation Lab. From neurons to social networks, Jay’s research examines how collective concerns—group identities, moral values, and political beliefs—shape the mind and brain. This work addresses issues of group identity, social motivation, cooperation, implicit bias, moral judgment and decision-making, and group regulation from a social neuroscience perspective.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.