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The feeling of loss most of us experience when we reminisce about gathering together is not just in our imaginations. Being in the physical presence of others affects us on a fundamental, even biological level. “When we’re in rooms in close proximity, we’re getting nonverbal feedback from each other. Breathing and heart rates synchronize,” says David DeSteno, a psychology professor and director of the Social Emotions Lab at Northeastern University. “That type of social interaction definitely leads to increased feelings of connectedness, which leads to increased feelings of well-being.”

Conversely, the absence of human contact has measurable health effects. DeSteno describes loneliness as “one of the worst things that can happen to humans”; in terms of health outcomes, he says, the distress it causes is as harmful as smoking regularly.

“All those things that make us feel closer to one another psychologically don’t happen over Zoom channels. It’s never going to be as rewarding,” DeSteno says.

In the right situations, the sheer volume of a crowd can make the positive effects even stronger.


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