One of the saddest things about loneliness is that it leads to what psychologists call a “negative spiral,” according to an article in New York Magazine. People who feel isolated come to dread painful social experiences and they lose faith that it’s possible to enjoy good company. The result is more loneliness.
Now the University of Chicago’s husband-and-wife research team of Stephanie and John Cacioppo — leading authorities on the psychology and neuroscience of loneliness — have teamed up with their colleague, Stephen Balogh, to provide the first evidence that lonely people’s brains, compared to the non-lonely, are alert to the difference between social and nonsocial threats. The finding, reported online in the journal Cortex, supports their broader theory that, for evolutionary reasons, loneliness triggers a cascade of brain-related changes that put us into a socially nervous, vigilant mode.
When people feel most alone, results suggest their brains are not tuned in to smiles and laughter, they’re switched on to frowns and snarls — they’re vigilantly looking out for negativity without really knowing it. This might have helped our distant ancestors stay alive back when lacking social ties was more of a direct threat to one’s well-being than it is today, making it evolutionarily adaptive. But in the modern world, it’s a stressful, unhelpful state to be in, and can lead to such mental health conditions as depression and anxiety. It might even help explain why lonely people often have poorer health and shorter lives than people who feel connected and cared for.
Read the full article here.