What Effect Does Loneliness Have On The Brain?: We’ve all experienced the agony of longing for a reassuring hug, a bit of help when you need it the most, or someone to chat to after a long day.
“Throughout human history, we’ve had to rely on others for survival, whether it’s protection from physical threats or our desire for a sense of community. “From the standpoint of neuroscience, our brains have evolved to social proximity.”
In other words, we’ve evolved to feel more secure and safe when we’re not alone.
Loneliness, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is “the pain or uneasiness of being or seeing oneself to be alone.” The emotional misery we feel when our fundamental need for connection and company goes unsatisfied.
While we’ve all experienced moments of temporary isolation, the health risks associated with prolonged or severe loneliness are significant.
When we’re all by ourselves, our minds are on high alert. As a result of sensation physically threatened, our perception and reasoning abilities are impaired.
Here are four major ways that loneliness can cause neurological alterations that impact thinking, memory, and well-being.
What Effect Does Loneliness Have On The Brain?
Being Alone May Start Making Us More Mean And Negative
It’s possible that when we’re lonely, we see things more negatively. Previous review on the topic has concluded that this is the case, with researchers using fMRI scans to demonstrate. That the brain does indeed activate more in reaction to adverse stimuli than positive ones.
The lack of a protective network might make an already-aware person even more on edge when they are alone. As you can see, this kind of reasoning leads nothing but downhill.
Data collected from a study of 7,500 older persons showed that those who reported being lonely were more likely to report feeling wounded or hard done by near and dear ones, withdraw from relationships, or even act with “cynical animosity.”
Researchers speculate that animosity is a defense mechanism single people use to avoid feeling even more rejected. But this only has the effect of further isolating them from the social interaction (and companionship) they so desperately need.
The researchers in a 2017 study published in the journal Psychiatry described this phenomenon as a “self-reinforcing loop” in which people felt lonely, criticized their friendships, and eventually isolated themselves.
Loneliness May Create Intense “Cravings” For Companionship
According to studies, feelings of isolation can cause neuronal responses in the brain that are comparable to the activity scientists observe during hunger and food cravings.
The results of a study involving 40 healthy people and 10 hours of isolation and fasting. Brain activity was measured with FMRI after each 10-hour block and compared to individuals’ pre-study fMRI scans.
The study’s focuse on the effects of stress, loneliness, & social isolation on the brain and mind. “They shared the same neuronal signature between those states.
It has been indicated by other researchers that when people feel lonely. As well as, rejected particular brain regions associated with anxiety, worry, and stress become active. It was proposed by the authors of a review of the relevant literature that these signals serve as reminders to resume social interaction.
The feeling of isolation is more than simply a negative emotion; it’s a call to action that something is missing in our lives.
Feeling Lonely May Reduce Our Trust In Others
Loneliness heightens a person’s awareness of potential dangers around them, which may increase their mistrust of others. The researchers recruited 42 individuals with severe, chronic loneliness who had not diagnosed with major mental health disorders, as well as an equal-sized control group.
For one activity, participants were given fictitious currency and asked if they wanted to keep it all for themselves or share it with other participants. Participants may earn extra money in the research, but only if they took a risk and trusted the other players.
Those who were lonely spoke less with others compared to those who were not lonely. Moreover, fMRI scans revealed that lonely individuals had reduced activity in regions of the brain involved with trust development. The amygdala, or emotion processing region, is smaller in persons with fewer social networks, according to previous study.
In addition, blood and saliva samples that assessed level of oxytocin (a hormone that, among many other things. That has a role in bonding and attachment) found that the mood of non-lonely participants improved during small chat, whereas the mood of lonely people did not. Lonely subjects were more likely to report lacking trust in the research assistants and produced less oxytocin compared to the control group.
Loneliness May Exacerbate Cognitive Decline
We must also interact with others to keep our brains active.
“Social engagement is a major reward in and of itself for social animals. It activates reward areas in our brains; it is a purely pleasurable relationship that serves no other purpose.
Brain alterations have been observed in those who experience above-average degrees of loneliness. A research that tracked the health trajectories of nine polar explorers who spent 14 months alone in Antarctica.
The researchers discovered that the dentate gyrus of the crew members’ brains shrunk by approximately 7 percent. The dentate gyrus is crucial for providing information to the hippocampus in order to facilitate learning and memory.
Decreases in BDNF were substantially associated with reductions in dentate gyrus volume. The polar adventurers performed worse on memory & spatial processing tests overall.
It is not necessary to be in the Antarctic to have this impact. In a 2019 study of over 11,000 persons published in the Journals of Gerontology, researchers discovered that those who reported significant levels of social isolation experienced above-average cognitive loss on memory recall tests.