Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health: A Systems Approach to Understanding and Modifying Risk and Protection

Annu Rev Psychol. 2018 Jan 4:69:437-458. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011902. Epub 2017 Oct 16.


Social relationships are adaptive and crucial for survival. This review presents existing evidence indicating that our social connections to others have powerful influences on health and longevity and that lacking social connection qualifies as a risk factor for premature mortality. A systems perspective is presented as a framework by which to move social connection into the realm of public health. Individuals, and health-relevant biological processes, exist within larger social contexts including the family, neighborhood and community, and society and culture. Applying the social ecological model, this review highlights the interrelationships of individuals within groups in terms of understanding both the causal mechanisms by which social connection influences physical health and the ways in which this influence can inform potential intervention strategies. A systems approach also helps identify gaps in our current understanding that may guide future research.

Keywords: loneliness; social connection; social ecological model; social isolation; social network; social relationships.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Loneliness
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Isolation
  • Social Support*