Loneliness and Social Isolation Impact the Brain Study Shows

Us, Humans. we have been told for ages that we are social animals and we require social communication. In fact, the recent Covid-19 pandemic and social isolation, has had a huge impact on the brains of lonely people.

Lonely Person

Lonely Person

A study has discovered, in lonely peoples, a sort of signature in their brains that makes them distinct in fundamental ways.

How the study was conducted by the team?

With approximately 40,000 middle-aged and older adult volunteers, a team of researchers examined the MRI data, psychological self-assessment, and genetics where data were included in UK biobank and then compared the MRI findings of participants who reported feeling lonely with one who didn’t.

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What were the findings?

Researchers have demonstrated several alterations in the brain especially the default network, a set of brain regions responsible for inner thoughts such as future planning, imagining, reminiscing, and thoughts of others. The default network was strongly wired together.

The study also found a correlation of loneliness with the difference in the fornix, a signal carrying nerve bundle from the hippocampus to the default network where this tract was better preserved in lonely people.

Being lonely, an advantage or disadvantage?

The study says we tend to use default networks while remembering the past, thinking hypothetical present, or visioning the future. This network being positively linked with loneliness perhaps is an advantage because lonely people are more likely to use imagination, memories of the past, and hopes for the future to get rid of their feeling of isolation from society.

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“lonely individuals, in the absence of expected social experiences, may be directed towards inner thoughts like imagining social experiences or reminiscing and these cognitive abilities we know are mediated by the default network region of the brain,” told Nathan spring from the neuro hospital, Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University. “ hence this possibly imagined social experiences and uplifted focus on self-reflection, would naturally engage the default network’s memory-based functions”

In contrast to the above, loneliness is now being considered a major health problem. Researchers say older people who feel lonely have a greater risk of cognitive dementia and decline which is a disadvantage. Hence proper understanding of this topic could be key to prevent disease associated with the brain and develop good treatments.

The Future of Loneliness

“We are slowly starting to understand the impact of loneliness on the brain. we will better appreciate the urgency of reducing loneliness in today’s society if we expand our knowledge in this area”, says Danilo Bzdok, a researcher at the neuro and the Quebec AI institute.

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Partially funded by a grant to Spreng and Bzdok from U.s National Institute on Aging, This study was published in the journal Nature Communications on Dec. 15, 2020.

References

The default network of the human brain is associated with perceived social isolation

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