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Why hanging out face-to-face still matters

June 7, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

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Group Of Friends Taking Part In Book Club At Home

Zoom videos and other online ways to meet have been a godsend during the pandemic. But there are real benefits to meeting face-to-face, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

(CNN)After more than a year of meeting on Zoom every month, the members of Amy Ettinger's book club recently tried something radical: They got together in real life.

Ettinger had established the book club at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and she and five or six other women from around Santa Cruz, California, had met 13 times in virtual space.

Real-life familiarization stimulates the brain differently and yields stronger and faster connections, the study reports.

Each group became familiar with two new people in a different way: personal interaction, by chatting with lab technicians; perceptual exposure, through an identity sorting game using still photographs; and media exposure, from watching a television show.

The strength of people's familiarity with each other, called the familiarity effect, was tied to the situation in which participants learned the new faces — personal interaction made the strongest difference, followed by media exposure.

Face-to-face interactions yielded the strongest connections, even though participants spent less time in real life than the media exposure group: The personal interaction group chatted with lab techs for three hours, while the media exposure group watched 20 hours of video, Ambrus said.

"When we watch a TV series, we might afterward feel like we recognize their faces, even though we never actually met the person," he said.

The lack of in-person connection during the pandemic has threatened our collective mental health, said Jennifer Kelman, a licensed clinical social worker in Boca Raton, Florida.

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