In a new study, researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University and State of Queensland (UQ) have examined how environmental differences across communities impact on ecologically meaningful behaviours across different cultures.
The study was conducted by Dr. Paul G. Schreiber from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University, and Dr. Peter T. Taylor from the School of Biological Sciences at UQ.
The findings show that, as individuals within a community become more familiar with their environment, the frequency with which individuals act as a resource and social glue becomes more common, and that as a result, individuals become less socially isolated, socially cohesive, and socially disconnected from their communities.
The research was published in the journal Conservation Biology.
“This is the first study to examine the impacts of social isolation on social cognition and behaviour in humans,” Dr. Schraiber said.
“Our findings show, for example, that individuals in highly isolated communities are less able to engage in meaningful behaviours like building a shelter, caring for a sick or injured relative or providing for other community members.”
Dr. Taylor said the study was an attempt to understand the effects of isolation and social cohesion on human social behaviour.
“I wanted to know if there is a link between isolation and these behavioural indicators of isolation.
We asked people in our study to identify the characteristics of each of the seven characteristics of isolation that were present in the community, and we found that the characteristics were related to how socially isolated individuals were from their group,” he said.
In order to do this, Dr. Taylor and his colleagues used a variety of social distance measurements, including those from the International Journal of Sociology, which measures how closely individuals are related to their groups, how many others live in their communities and the number of children they have in their community.
Dr. Schleiber said social isolation and cohesion in communities are important social markers for both species and human beings, but the findings suggest that individual differences in behaviour and community structure could also play a role.
“We know that people who live in isolated communities have a more difficult time coping with isolation,” he added.
“However, in our previous research, we found some similarities in how isolated people responded to social cues and how people with more connected communities responded.”
In other words, isolation is associated with less social cohesion, but we also found that those who are more connected to their communities have more social cohesion.
“The research also examined the effects that different social contexts have on the functioning of human communities.”
People living in isolated areas tend to be less likely to engage with social connections.
But we found, too, that people living in community-based settings are more likely to have positive interactions with people in their social networks, and more likely have a positive interaction with people who are not in their group.
“Finally, we looked at how social distance affects people’s understanding of the environment, and found that social distance is linked to the degree to which they perceive their environment as less socially distanced from their environment.”
“In short, people are more able to interact with others, but they also tend to see the environment more distanced.”