Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul







Susan Pinker commends the value of in person relations for a longer life

Canadian psychologist delivered the closing lecture of Frontiers of Thought 2017

15/12/2017 - 09h02
Susan Pinker

Canadian psychologist advocates for in person social relations
Photo: Luiz Munhoz

The more in person relations a person has, the higher the chances for them to have a longer and healthier life. Canadian psychologist Susan Pinker, made use of her most recent work, The Village Effect, to show that this could be the best recipe for a longer life as it has a stronger impact on it than physical activities and other health care provisions. And women have an advantage over men in this respect. Her lecture closed the 2017 season of the Frontiers of Thought conference series as it addressed the year’s main theme Civilization – society and its values. The event receives the cultural support from PUCRS.

Susan Pinker sees social cohesion as a highly influential factor on the lives of men and women. What we are talking about here is not the cohesion in large cities, in overpopulated metropolis but in municipalities such as Villagrande, in Sardinia, Italy. It has one of the largest proportions of people aged 100+ in Europe. Pinker calls them “supercentenarians”. In addition to a peaceful life, another important factor is the relationship between neighbors and family members who live nearby. “Today, social isolation is one of the main problems to be faced”, warns Susan. “People who do not have many references to lean on do not live longer”, says she.

In support of the work she developed in Italy, which inspired her book released in 2014, yet to be released in Portuguese, she interviewed men and women aged 100+, many of whom were still lucid. Their children’s reports (many of whom in their 70s or 80s) feel proud and privileged to take care of their parents. When they were asked whether it was not a heavy burden to bear, they claimed to be “different from you, Westerners”. The Canadian researcher also observed what she coined as “silent hostility among the elderly’s children” as she reported how suspicious they were to strangers in town.

In person relations stronger than online relationships

Among the key factors for longevity, Susan presented a list in a hierarchical order. Fresh air and physical activities were at the bottom. Close relations and social interactions were at the top. “Rather than physical activities, the most important aspects for longevity lie in social life”, claims she. When compared to distance relationships, such as on social media, she states that there is a huge difference. “We confuse online interaction with social contact. These are two completely different things. Recent studies can confirm it”, adds she. She made that point clear as she mentioned an investigation that studies the brains of two individuals in order to know the difference between a “genuine social interaction” and another developed on social media. Results have shown that those who have in person relationships have different areas of their brain activated, such as those related to affection. “The feeling of belonging provided by social contact is key to our survival”, says Susan.

Susan Pinker

Susan Pinker
Photo: Luiz Munhoz

The professor went on to say that “honesty is an issue in online interactions for we can’t see or show our reactions, gestures and all of that has an influence on how we interact”, states she. Synchronicity, gestures, influence and consistency put together are regarded as strong indicators of mutual confidence. “We’re social creatures, susceptible to the influence of other people”, says she. In person relations need to be renewed at an interval no longer than 18 months, argues Susan, “otherwise they’ll become frail”.

Women live longer

At the very beginning of the presentation, Pinker provoked the audience as she asked them whether they knew why women lived longer than men. In her view, this is because women have a larger number of social networks and keep them longer, and this gives them agency in the creation of a field of protection based on the ties established with friends, peers and neighbors, for instance.

She adds that mostly mothers and grandmothers are responsible for organizing family festivities, as they play a very important role. All this will be gone when they die. Additionally, she claims that “the power of social contact shows that women who suffer from breast cancer have four times more chances to survive than those who do not have a strong relationship network”. In the end, she made a claim: “build your cities, this helps you lead a healthy and happy life.


Season 2017 of project Frontiers of Thought is guided by the topic Civilização – a sociedade e seus valores (Civilization – society and its values). Relying on cultural support from PUCRS, it brought internationally recognized guests will be coming to Porto Alegre to address the quest for reconstruction, conscience and redemption of values. Relying on the support of the Office of Communications and Marketing, several conferences were offered along the year of 2017. Check out the program:

Nov 29
Niall Ferguson introduces the “apps” that consolidated the supremacy of the Western world

Nov 07
“Setting people free makes you rich”, claims Deirdre McCloskey

Sep 29
Piketty claims for transparency to fight inequality

Aug 22
The essence of being an island

Jun 29
Amós Oz talks about the need to coexist and the respect for differences

Jun 06
Lipovetsky and Giannetti discuss the impact of consumption in our society

May 19
Carlo Rovelli commends BraIns interdisciplinary character