Brain News: New research published in the journal Advanced Science revealed that loneliness is associated with a lack of trust in fellow human beings. It is reflected in changes in the activity and interaction of various brain structures, especially the insular cortex.
The researchers hired 3678 people for the study and selected only 42 people (based on an online questionnaire) who were affected by severe loneliness but did not suffer from a mental illness or were receiving psychotherapy. This will ensure the study findings are attributed to loneliness experienced and to rule out any influence of mental illness as far as possible. The control group comprised 40 people who did not suffer from persistent loneliness.
Participants first completed tasks in the brain scanner and then they played a trust game involving a start-up capital. The game involves trusting their gambling partners and counting on them for sharing their money with them. Participants with profound feelings of loneliness shared less with others than the control group, which could be interpreted as a lower level of trust.
The researchers also observed the changes in the brain region associated with trust formation, especially in the anterior insular cortex, which was less active in lonely individuals and did not connect as prominently with other brain areas.
The trust game was followed by a conversation task, where each participant dealt with emotionally positive content. The research team then conducted mood assessment and observed changes in the levels of bonding hormone oxytocin in response to the conversation. People who were highly were in a less positive mood after small talk than the control group.
“Overall, the results show across tasks that chronic loneliness is associated with reduced trust in fellow human beings,” says Dr. Dirk Scheele. “This can mean that interactions with others are experienced as less positive, which makes it harder to connect with others and exacerbates the loneliness spiral.”
Loneliness is a dangerous feeling in the world and persistent loneliness leads to a range of mental health issues like depression and anxiety disorder. The study findings have important implications for therapists to pay more attention to lonely people and their lack of trust by making it a topic of discussion and thus making those affected aware of it.
To Know More You May Refer To:
Lieberz, J., Shamay-Tsoory, S. G., Saporta, N., Esser, T., Kuskova, E., Stoffel-Wagner, B., Hurlemann, R., & Scheele, D. (2021). Loneliness and the social brain: How perceived social isolation impairs human interactions. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.03.433569