Loneliness alters brain processing unique to each individual Neuroscience News

Summary: People who are lonely see the world in a unique way that is very different from people who are not lonely.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain processing patterns in 66 college students as they watched various video clips. The results showed that people who experienced loneliness showed more unique patterns of brain processing.

The finding could help researchers better understand the nuances of loneliness and its impact on mental health.

Key facts:

  1. The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain processing patterns in people who felt lonely.
  2. People who experience loneliness show more unique and specific patterns of brain processing compared to non-lonely people.
  3. Specific processing patterns in lonely individuals can be observed regardless of social ties or number of friends.

source: University of Southern California

Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy may have had something on his mind when he wrote the opening lines of this book. Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family has its own unhappiness.”

A recently published study psychological science Research led by a scholar in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences shows that people who are not lonely are all alike when it comes to how their brains process information, but each lonely person is unique in their own way. way of dealing with the world.

Image credit: Neuroscience News

Numerous studies have shown that loneliness is detrimental to well-being and is often accompanied by self-reported feelings of not being understood by others.

A recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office called loneliness a public health crisis as more adults suffer from the condition. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, about half of U.S. adults reported experiencing significant feelings of loneliness.

loneliness is special

When she was a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA, Elisa Baek, an assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife, sought to better understand what caused this feeling of disconnection and misunderstood.

Using a neuroimaging technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Baek and her team examined the brains of 66 first-year college students as they watched a series of video clips. The videos range in subject matter from sentimental music videos to party scenes and sporting events, providing a variety of scenarios for analysis.

Before being scanned, participants aged 18 to 21 were asked to fill out the UCLA Loneliness Inventory, a survey designed to measure a person’s subjective feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Based on the findings, the researchers divided the participants into two groups: a lonely group and a “non-lonely group” (people who did not experience loneliness). Then, while the participants watched the video, they scanned each participant’s brain using fMRI.

By comparing brain imaging data between the two groups, the researchers found that lonely people exhibited more distinct and unique patterns of brain processing than non-lonely people.

The finding is significant because it reveals that neural similarity—the degree to which different individuals’ brain activity patterns resemble each other—is linked to a shared understanding of the world. This shared understanding is important for building social connections.

Not only do people who suffer from loneliness not quite resemble the social norms for dealing with the world, but each lonely person is also different in unique ways. This uniqueness may further contribute to feelings of isolation and lack of social connection.

“Surprisingly, lonely people were even less similar to each other,” Bai said. The fact that they couldn’t find common ground with lonely or non-lonely people made it harder for them to form social connections .

“The ‘Anna Karenina Principle’ is an apt description for lonely people because they experience loneliness in a particular way rather than in a universally related way,” she added.

Loneliness is not about having friends

So, does the special processing of lonely individuals cause loneliness, or is it a result of loneliness?

The researchers observed that people with high levels of loneliness—no matter how many friends or social connections they had—were more likely to exhibit specific brain responses.

This raises the possibility that being around people who see the world differently from one’s own may be a risk factor for loneliness, even if one interacts with them regularly.

The study also suggests that because social connection or disconnection fluctuates over time, it may affect the degree to which individuals process the world in particular ways.

Looking ahead, Bai said she’s interested in studying people who have friends and are socially active but still feel lonely. In addition, researchers are studying the specific situations in which lonely individuals respond differently.

For example, do lonely people display traits in how they deal with unexpected events or ambiguous social situations where things can be interpreted differently?

funds: Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

News about loneliness and neuroscience research

author: Eliana Wachtel
source: University of Southern California
touch: Ileana Wachtel – University of Southern California
image: This image is from Neuroscience News

Original Research: open access.
Lonely People Process the World in Special Ways by Elisa Baek et al. psychological science


Lonely people process the world in unique ways

Loneliness is detrimental to well-being and is often accompanied by self-reported feelings of not being understood by others. What causes lonely people to feel this way?

We used functional MRI of 66 first-year college students to unobtrusively measure the relative consistency of people’s mental processing of natural stimuli and test whether lonely people actually process the world in idiosyncratic ways.

We found evidence of this trait: lonely individuals have neural responses that differ from their peers, particularly in areas of the default mode network where similar responses are associated with shared perspectives and subjective understandings. These relationships persisted when we controlled for population similarity, objective social segregation, and friendship between individuals.

Our findings raise the possibility that being around people who see the world differently from one’s own, even if they are friends, may be a risk factor for loneliness.

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