Scientists Say: Social

We use this word every day, but what does it really mean?

faces crowd

People are social and constantly interacting with each other, often whether they want to or not. 

Scott Creswell/Flickr/(CC BY 2.0)

Social (adjective, “SOSH-uhl”)

The inherent preference, in some organisms, to seek out others and dwell with or near to them. Animals and people can be social. People may interact by reaching out to each other on “social media.” Animals may groom each other as a comforting form of social contact. Some people may even suffer social anxiety when they are around others or fear that they might be asked to join others. All of these examples deal with how social the organisms are, meaning how they relate to each other.    

In a sentence

People who identify as transgender may transition socially by changing their name, behavior or appearance to match their gender identity.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

anxiety  A nervous disorder causing excessive uneasiness and apprehension. People with anxiety may even develop panic attacks.

social anxiety   Feelings of apprehension caused by social situations. People with this disorder may be so worried about interacting with others that they withdraw from social events altogether.

social media     Internet-based media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, that allow people to connect with each other (often anonymously) and to share information.

transgender    Someone who has a gender identity that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

transition   (in gender studies) A term used to describe the process of changing one’s outward gender in terms of name, behavior, expression and/or body to match one’s gender identity. A transition may be social, physical or both.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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