Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Loneliness can be contagious

01.12.2009
People who feel lonely spread that feeling to others

Loneliness, like a bad cold, can spread among groups of people, research at the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego and Harvard shows.

Using longitudinal data from a large-scale study that has been following health conditions for more than 60 years, a team of scholars found that lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. Gradually over time, a group of lonely, disconnected people moves to the fringes of social networks.

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,” said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left.”

Other members of the study team were James Fowler, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medicine and Professor of Medical Sociology in the Harvard Medical School.

Before relationships are severed, people on the periphery transmit feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, who also become lonely. "These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater," said Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology.

Because loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical diseases that can shorten life, Cacioppo said it is important for people to recognize loneliness and help those people connect with their social group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.

The scholars' findings were published in the article, "Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network," published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For the study, the team examined records of the Framingham Heart Study, which has studied people in Framingham, Mass. since 1948. The original group, including more than 5,209 people, was originally studied for the risks of cardiovascular disease.

The study has since been expanded to include about 12,000 people, as the children and the grandchildren of the original group and others have been included to diversify the population sample. The Framingham study now includes more tests, including measures of loneliness and depression. The second generation in the study, which includes 5,124 people, was the focus of the loneliness research.

Because the study is longitudinal, researchers kept in touch with the subjects every two to four years and accordingly collected names of friends who knew the subjects. Those records became an excellent source of information about the people's social networks.

By constructing graphs that charted the subjects' friendship histories and information about their reports of loneliness, researchers were able to establish a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported fewer close friends. The data showed that lonely people "infected" the people around them with loneliness, and those people moved to the edges of social circles.

The team found that the next-door neighbors in the survey who experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an increase in loneliness among their neighbors who were their close friends. The loneliness spread as the neighbors spent less time together.

Previous work suggested that women rely on emotional support more than men do, and in this study women were more likely than men to report “catching” loneliness from others. People's chances of becoming lonely were more likely to be caused by changes in friendship networks than changes in family networks.

Research also shows that as people become lonely, they become less trustful of others, and a cycle develops that makes it harder for them to form friendships. Societies seem to develop a natural tendency to shed these lonely people, something that is mirrored in tests of monkeys, who tend to drive off members of their groups who have been removed from a colony and then reintroduced, Cacioppo said.

That pattern makes it all the more important to recognize loneliness and deal with it before it spreads, he said.

"Society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in the periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network from unraveling," he said.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

"Previous research has shown that loneliness and lack of social connection can have a significant negative effect on the overall health and well-being of older people," said Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of the NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which funded the research. "This pioneering research into the connections of individuals within their social networks has important implications for the larger issue of social interactions and health."

William Harms | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uchicago.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Usher syndrome: Gene therapy restores hearing and balance
25.09.2017 | Institut Pasteur

nachricht MRI contrast agent locates and distinguishes aggressive from slow-growing breast cancer
25.09.2017 | Case Western Reserve University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fraunhofer ISE Pushes World Record for Multicrystalline Silicon Solar Cells to 22.3 Percent

25.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Usher syndrome: Gene therapy restores hearing and balance

25.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

An international team of physicists a coherent amplification effect in laser excited dielectrics

25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>