Over 110 behavioral researchers, evolutionary biologists, and veterinarians came together in Göttingen from December 3rd to 6th to discuss the connections between social factors, health, and fitness during the Göttinger Freilandtage.
The international meeting, which is organized bi-annually by the Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit of the German Primate Center (DPZ), took place in the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. Numerous interesting talks and posters demonstrated how social factors influence reproductive success and health. The speakers presented results about many different species from ants to primates and humans.
In his welcome address on Tuesday evening host Peter Kappeler (DPZ) placed emphasized the social relevance of the topic and on the potential benefits of this results from this kind of research for humans during his welcome speech on Tuesday evening: "As behavioral ecologists we know a lot about the social life of our favorite animals, but data on fitness and health are often missing. On the other hand, medical doctors can read out anything about the health status of their patients from the blood count, but I often get the impression that they rarely know anything about the social factors that influence their patients." He also emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation in this specific research field and on the fact that there's room for more collaborations - therefore, the meeting in Göttingen was certainly a step in the right direction.
Presentations like the one by PhD student Clémence Poirotte (Centre National de la Recherche Scientific Montpellier) demonstrated that a high degree of sociality does not only have positive consequences. Close social contact increases the risk of transmitting diseases and parasites. A finding that was also confirmed by the studies of DPZ PhD student Andrea Springer by her research in Madagascar.
Still, the majority of the scientists agreed on one thing: "Loneliness causes illness." And this finding seems to apply to modern humans in the digital age, too, said Oliver Schülke (University of Göttingen): "There are clear indications that even a thousand Facebook-friends can't replace real contact."
The link below contains a video about the Göttinger Freilandtage 2013.