Social Vitamin Synthesis Looks Like This.
Several years ago, in collaboration with the magazine and website Psychology Today, I wrote a series of articles on vision and social nutrition – an important emerging area of study. In one, I explored Vitamin I, an idea that has attracted a lot of recent attention in relation to mirror reading.
I recap it here:
You won’t find it on your pharmacist’s shelf, but you can make it yourself with these common ingredients…
A gleeful glance, an admiring eye, a warm look from someone you respect. The gaze of a happy child….
Share, indulge, repeat.
Even if you’ve never thought about Vitamin I, you know the feeling of it: An infusion of energy, a positive chemical spark. Vitamin I is a vital electric nutrient brought on by the kind of eye contact that just feels good.
And is very good for us. In fact, positive eye contacts are the essence of social nourishment, required for optimal human body-mind functioning across the lifespan.
While not often discussed in the medical literature, the healthful aspects of positive visual exchanges are well known. Experiences of attention and acknowledgement are recognized elements in healing. Positive regard is a meaningful therapeutic factor – noticed most in its absence. Kindness, connection, care – all communicated in the blink of a look – convey real physical benefits.
Much research on the links between social eye interactions and health focuses on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Both are activated by what and who comes into our sight-lines in our daily lives, especially the straight-on looks of people we are attracted to.
Neurotransmitters connected with feelings of well-being, like serotonin and dopamine, are linked to receiving positive visuals. So are neuropeptides like oxytocin – central to social recognition, and attachment. Even antibody production in our immune system fluctuates according to who we see.
Vitamin I is not nothing. When we share warm looks, whether with a loved one, friend or stranger, we exchange something tangible, though challenging to quantify. Positive eye contact influences healthy antibody production in our immune systems, and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system; it quickens the heart rate and elevates body temperature and sends endorphin surges racing through the brain, soothes…
It’s my guess that Vitamin I is an endogenous element produced by our own bodies in the presence of a catalyst. Much in the same way that sunshine stimulates Vitamin D synthesis, Vitamin I occurs in the presence of positive visuals with others. We synthesize in ourselves, and stimulate it in others, as we share in good looks.
And the link to Mirror Reading?
It turns out that reading reversed books in reflections with kids is a natural source of Vitamin I. When we read face-to-face in the glass, we are more easily able to see each other reading and make positive visual connections. Unlike with conventional books where we are always looking down at the page, when we mirror read, we also look at each other, catch glances, and play with eyes that are open, unguarded and warm.
From there, the magic occurs- eye spies emerge. Children who do not easily connect find it easier to look with others and be visually interactive in a mirror. Kids will watch eyes, read lips to sound out words, and bask in admiring looks as they absorb crucial social nutrients.
Creating and providing opportunities to share some Vitamin I is important for growing minds and bodies. And older ones too! My hypothesis: Social nutrients synthesized during fun eye contacts provide scaffolds for good health in people of all ages….
My prescription: Share a dose.
Please let me know how Vitamin I feels to you.
If you are interested in reading the rest of the article on the Psychology Today website, or viewing the series, please visit here.