A new loneliness study has revealed that the feeling of being isolated — at least emotionally — from the rest of the world, is not just a symptom of depression. It’s an actual disease.
Cacioppo and his fellow researchers “reviewed a wealth of research conducted over the last several years that collectively provides a new perspective on the condition,” writes Forbes columnist David DiSalvo. “Most importantly, the research shows that the lonely brain is structurally and biochemically different than the non-lonely brain, and these underlying differences are not merely symptoms, but the cause of additional problems.”
The research team’s findings also point out that the disease of loneliness cannot be laid entirely at genetics door.
“Loneliness is about 50 percent heritable, but this does not mean loneliness is determined by genes,” Cacioppo said in a previous interview with Forbes. “An equal amount is due to situational factors. What appears to be heritable is the intensity of pain felt when one feels socially isolated.”
Psychologists have long distinguished the feeling of loneliness from that of simply being alone.
When one is busy “being alone,” they are simply living with themselves for better or worse, and indulging in typical day-to-day behaviors. One can be quite happy being alone.
Loneliness, however, is another story.
It’s that feeling that you can be walking down a crowded street or have thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers, yet you still feel there is no one to relate to or turn to in times of need.
Loneliness, essentially, can overtake you even when — and perhaps especially when — you’re not physically alone.
DiSalvo points out where Cacioppo’s research adds to the narrative.
“One major difference identified by Cacioppo’s team is that the lonely brain has a suppressed neural response to positive stimuli. Positive images and events don’t “register” in the lonely brain as they do in the non-lonely brain. The idea of social contact with friends or family, for instance, sparks distinct activity in the brains of most people, while the response in the lonely brain is diminished.”
What do you think about the new findings? Is the loneliness study correct in assuming that the condition is a disease, and not just a symptom of depression? Share your thoughts in our comments section.
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