The human brain expects access to relationships characterized by interdependence, shared goals, and joint attention. Violations of this expectation increase cognitive and physiological effort as the brain perceives fewer available resources and prepares the body to either conserve or more heavily invest its own energy. This increase in cognitive and physiological effort is frequently accompanied by distress, both acute and chronic, with all the negative sequelae for health and well being that implies….

Proximity to a familiar other [is] the brain’s true ‘baseline’ state. …

Proximity to social resources decreases the cost of climbing both the literal and figurative hills we face, because the brain construes social resources as  bioenergetic resources, much like oxygen or glucose. Indeed, evidence  suggests that hills literally appear less steep when standing next to a friend. Moreover, socially isolated individuals consume more sugar.

Current Opinion in Psychology

Volume 1, February 2015, Pages 87-91, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2014.12.021

James ACoan1David ASbarra2


• The human brain assumes proximity to social resources.
• Social relationships are construed as bioenergetic resources available to the self.
• Relational partners are incorporated into neural representations of the self.
• Relationship loss damages self-related representations and personal efficacy.
• Recovery from relationship loss entails ungrafting of the other from the self.

We describe Social Baseline Theory (SBT), a perspective that integrates the study of social relationships with principles of attachment, behavioral ecology, cognitive neuroscience, and perception science. SBT suggests the human brain expects access to social relationships that mitigate risk and diminish the level of effort needed to meet a variety of goals. This is accomplished in part by incorporating relational partners into neural representations of the self. By contrast, decreased access to relational partners increases cognitive and physiological effort. Relationship disruptions entail re-defining the self as independent, which implies greater risk, increased effort, and diminished well being. The ungrafting of the self and other may mediate recovery from relationship loss.