Social Intelligence for Health and Wealth

The pursuit of health and wealth are candidate motivators for New Year’s resolutions and are more linked to what I am calling ‘social intelligence’ then you may realize. In his book, Emotional Intelligence (copyright 1995, published by Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-37506-7), Daniel Goleman talks about the abilities of emotional intelligence that help us to thrive in life such as self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself. Daniel also talks about how toxic emotions put our physical health at risk. Similarly, there are abilities of social intelligence that help us to thrive such as compassion, caring, service, trust, respect, and appreciation of others. There are also toxic social conditions that wreak havoc on our bodies.

This post explores the role of social intelligence in stress. The science of stress shows that the relationship between the body and brain when it comes to stress is reversible. The science of stress also shows that the relationship between work environment and stress is reversible. Finally, the science of stress shows that collaboration is good for you, and the science of collaboration reveals collaboration to be social intelligence at its best.

The brain can cause chronic stress which, in turn, can have negative health consequences on the body. Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinologist and primatologist at Stanford University, explains the evolution of stress in both the animal kingdom and humans (see Dr. Sapolsky explains that nature’s reason for the stress response is to enable us to literally ‘run for our lives’ to survive someone’s attempt to kill us, or eat us in the case of the animal kingdom. During the stress response, the lungs work overtime to produce oxygen, the heart races to pump that oxygen to the muscles, and the body shuts down non-essential functions to focus all energy on the heart and lungs. The stress response is meant to turn on when we fear for our safety and then turn off once the threat is gone. Dr. Sapolsky further explains that stress has evolved from nature’s survival mechanism to a social condition. The stress response today is triggered by purely psychological reasons rather than for the physiological reasons, like survival in the face of a threat, which the stress response was intended for. A big difference between a stress response for psychological reasons and one for physiological reasons is shutting the stress response off. Consequently, physiological stress is acute but short-lived while psychological stress is chronic and longer-lived. Scientists have provided evidence for many negative health consequences to the body from chronic stress including high blood pressure, diabetes, plaque build-up on arterial walls, heart attack, shortened telomeres on chromosomes which accelerates aging, reduced memory capacity from damaged brain cells, weight gain around the abdomen, lower dopamime binding corresponding to depression, and a variety of conditions resulting from disruption to the body’s immune system (e.g., gastric ulcers).

The body not only can cause stress but can reduce stress. In her TED talk called ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,’ social psychologist Amy Cuddy presents results of experiments that show ‘power posing’ reduces stress and increasees confidence ( A ‘power pose’ is a body position, either sitting or standing, that makes you look big and open. Specifically, holding a ‘power pose’ for at least 2 minutes changes the hormone levels in the body which control feelings of dominance and the stress response. Similarly, in her TED talk called ‘How to Make Stress Your Friend,’ health psychologist Kelly McGonigal points to the evidence that you can change your response to stress by changing your mind about stress (see Kelly describes a Harvard University study in which those trained that their stress response was helpful to their performance were less stressed out, more comfortable, more confident and their physical stress response changed. Specifically in a typical stress response the heart rate increases and the blood vessels constrict. However for those trained that their stress response was helpful to their performance their heart rate increased under stress while their blood vessels stay relaxed which is a cardiovascular profile that looks more like joy and courage.

Like the body can either cause or reduce stress, the social nature of your work or living environment can also either cause or reduce stress. A baboon troop that Dr. Robert Sapolsky had been studying for more than a decade in East Africa suffered a calamity (see The baboon troop foraged for food at a popular tourist spot and was exposed to meat tainted with tuberculosis. Half the male baboons in the troop died as a result. Interestingly, the males that died were exclusively the most aggressive and dominant males in the troop. As a result, the troop experienced a culture shift away from the hierarchical culture of dominance and subordinance to a culture of social affiliation (expressed through grooming each other) and treating each other with kindness and compassion. When the troop had a hierarchical culture, Dr. Sapolsky showed that the lower the social status of the baboon, the higher the level of stress and associated health conditions. With the new culture of social affiliation, all baboons had low levels of stress. There are comparable studies of humans that support these results. For example, another study by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (in same video referenced above) shows that women caring for severely handicapped children have shorter telomeres the longer they have been giving the care. Shorter telomeres are indicative of aging. However, if women caring for severely handicapped children participated regularly in a support group, then the healing effects of the enzyme telomerase is stimulated and the telomeres can lengthen as a result.

Finally, there is scientific evidence that compassion and collaboration can repair damage caused by stress. For example, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal (see points to a study at the University of Buffalo which showed those who spent time helping others had increased resilience from the damaging impacts of stress. Kelly explains that the release of oxytocin is part of the stress response and oxytocin acts as a natural anti-inflammatory to help keep your blood vessels relaxed during the stress response. Kelly also explains that the benefits of oxyticin are enhanced by social contact and social support. Additional studies show that the more collaborative the work environment and the more workers feel treated fairly then the lower the incidence of health problems related to chronic stress.

In summary, social affiliation, compassion, and collaboration are elements of a low-stress environment regardless of hierarchical structure. Compassion and caring for others as in a support group can reverse the negative effects of chronic stress. Not only does collaboration improve results, which can lead to wealth, but collaboration helps to reduce the negative health impacts of stress. What really distinguishes collaboration from coordination or cooperation, is the presence of the proper cognitive context, social context, and structure (see Collaboration is really social intelligence at its best!

If you would like to learn more about creating a more collaborative environment in your organization, then contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or Ask about the first-time client offer.