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Life sciences/Organismal biology/Animals

Social isolation can have a huge impact on health. It can be as detrimental as being obese, and only slightly less harmful than smoking. The feelings of loneliness are something all humans can experience, regardless of culture. And even social animals will die at younger ages when they are isolated from the group.

AAAS member John Cacioppo is the Director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. He has spent his career researching loneliness and depression in the field of social neuroscience. Social neuroscience is a growing interdisciplinary field. It looks at how the brain influences social behavior, and in turn, how social environments influence the brain.

Cacioppo and his colleagues complied a book about loneliness and how it affects your health, titled "Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection." In a reading from a section of his book, Cacioppo talks about how animals also share the need for, and benefits from, social connections. He talks about how the fear of loneliness contributed to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. And, it introduces how important loneliness is to health as well as why it deserves more attention and study.

Bigfoot and the Yeti are often characterized like the Loch Ness Monster and unicorns as mythical creatures. But there is the possibility that another primate species exists who shares part of our evolutionary heritage and walks on two feet. Most likely, such animals would be large, hairy, and not very friendly to humans. Sasquatch faces lots of skepticism, and the evidence supporting its existence is often disputed. But there are legitimate scientists who believe in these creatures and are trying to convince the scientific community to take them seriously.

AAAS Member Jeff Meldrum, professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University at Pocatello, specializes in primate bipedalism. He has spent his life researching the evolution of human movement on two feet, and has long been fascinated by the possibility that we have an evolutionary relative who shares this trait.

Several years ago, he found fresh Sasquatch tracks in the Blue Mountains of the northwestern United States, and his passion for the science behind these creatures grew. In his book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, he looks at the science behind Sasquatch and gathers scientific evidence to support the existence of this possible human evolutionary relative. In this podcast, he reads a section of his book recounting his discovery of several Sasquatch tracks and his initial skepticism about their validity.