Studies Show What Loneliness Looks Like In The Brain

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A recent study, conducted in December 2020, highlights the image of loneliness in the brain. It shows how lonely people are different from others in fundamental ways, based on volume variations in different parts of the brain, along with the pattern of communication among these regions across the brain networks. Given the fact that humans are social animals, social interactions are crucial for survival and fulfillment. However, this social dependency comes at a cost, affecting physical and mental health, cognitive performance, increased vulnerability, and overall life expectancy, resulting from isolation. 

The study made use of 40,000 middle-aged individuals and found numerous differences in the brains of lonely people. Results showed that these brain manifestations were centered to the default network, a set of brain regions responsible for inner thoughts. Researchers found that the default networks of lonely people were strongly associated with the grey matter volume of the default network region, which was greater. Additionally, the fornix, a bundle of nerve fiber tract, was better preserved in lonely people.

Loneliness may result in morbidity, hypertension, immune system, and suicidal tendency. The study also adds that loneliness is estimated to affect 10–20% of adults devoid of companionship. 

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R. Nathan Spreng, Emile Dimas, Laetitia Mwilambwe-Tshilobo, Alain Dagher, Philipp Koellinger, Gideon Nave, Anthony Ong, Julius M. Kernbach, Thomas V. Wiecki, Tian Ge, Yue Li, Avram J. Holmes, B. T. Thomas Yeo, Gary R. Turner, Robin I. M. Dunbar, Danilo Bzdok. The default network of the human brain is associated with perceived social isolation. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20039-w

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