British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) Post

12.05.21 03:18 PM By Dimitris Pinotsis

Creating social bonds when our social brain cannot: a challenge for the creative industry

By Dimitris Pinotsis, Co-Chair, BIMA Human Behaviour Council

Extract from Humanity has turned inwards and the shift has been rapid

A whole year has gone by with COVID-19 impacting upon the lives of billions of people worldwide. The pandemic has changed our everyday lives, daily routines, the way we behave inside and outside our homes; how we interact with others in groups and how we carry out our work or spend time on hobbies alone. Many of us have reduced our out-of-home activities dramatically and have had limited contact with our loved ones and friends over the past year. We have got used to interacting mostly online, looking at other people’s faces inside Zoom frames on our computer screens. How has this affected our feelings? Have our emotions and behaviour changed?

Yes. Studies show that many of us feel lonelier and have higher levels of uncertainty about the future or even stress. We have become more conservative and lack trust and optimism. We prefer to stick to essential activities to carry out basic everyday tasks. Many of us feel there is not much space left for pursuing happiness the way we used to. The pressure on the global economy, increasing demands on our jobs and economic shocks due to the pandemic and other factors (e.g. Brexit) seemed to have affected all of us to some degree. But why does nobody seem to have escaped and what has changed in ourselves as we have turned inwards?

Recent developments in neuroscience reveal that our biology has changed. Isolation and limited social interaction are unnatural conditions for the human species. We are social creatures. Our brains and bodies are made to work well when we are outside talking to others, feeling and touching them, forming bonds and relationships with our friends, peers or relatives. Think of the last time you had a handshake. Maybe you miss that or you feel that something is off. Our brains and bodies have chemicals and processes that depend on social interactions. The balance of these chemicals depends on interactions. Over the past year, living in the COVID world, this balance has been distorted.

Many hormones and brain chemicals allow us to understand and interact with others in social environments. The most well known of them is oxytocin. This is a powerful chemical that allows mothers to produce milk and form attachments with their infants. It creates attraction between romantic partners and feelings of trust between an individual and their environment. Oxytocin allows us to form affiliations and bonds with a group of peers, colleagues or followers and develop a social identity.

Oxytocin affects our consumer behaviour too. Studies have shown it changes our buying preferences and tendencies as well as consumer-brand relationships. The reason is that both social bonding and the bonding between consumers and brands have the same biological basis. Successful brand-making means that the brand has a social identity of its own; it has attributes that allow the consumer to relate to it in a similar fashion to the way they would relate to a social entity or group.

The way we interact with a brand fulfils needs of our social brain, like social attribution. COVID-19 has changed the biology of our social brain and the way we behave as consumers. Technologists, creatives, marketing leaders and strategists should be aware of this. They can empower our social brain at a time that biology is lagging behind.