Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Loneliness Affects How The Brain Operates

Date:
February 17, 2009
Source:
University of Chicago
Summary:
Social isolation affects how people behave as well as how their brains operate, a new shows. The research is the first to use fMRI scans to study connections between perceived social isolation (or loneliness) and activity in the brain. Combining fMRI scans with data relevant to social behavior is part of an emerging field examining brain mechanisms.

Social isolation affects how people behave as well as how their brains operate, a study at the University of Chicago shows.

The research, presented February 15 at a symposium, "Social Emotion and the Brain," at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is the first to use fMRI scans to study the connections between perceived social isolation (or loneliness) and activity in the brain. Combining fMRI scans with data relevant to social behavior is part of an emerging field examining brain mechanisms—an approach to psychology being pioneered at the University of Chicago.

Researchers found that the ventral striatum—a region of the brain associated with rewards—is much more activated in non-lonely people than in the lonely when they view pictures of people in pleasant settings. In contrast, the temporoparietal junction—a region associated with taking the perspective of another person—is much less activated among lonely than in the non-lonely when viewing pictures of people in unpleasant settings.

"Given their feelings of social isolation, lonely individuals may be left to find relative comfort in nonsocial rewards," said John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Professor in Psychology at the University. He spoke at the briefing along with Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University.

The ventral striatum, which is critical to learning, is a key portion of the brain and is activated through primary rewards such as food and secondary rewards such as money. Social rewards and feelings of love also may activate the region.

Cacioppo, one of the nation's leading scholars on loneliness, has shown that loneliness undermines health and can be as detrimental as smoking. About one in five Americans experience loneliness, he said. Decety is one of the nation's leading researchers to use fMRI scans to explore empathy.

They were among five co-authors of a paper, "In the Eye of the Beholder: Individual Differences in Perceived Social Isolation Predict Regional Brain Activation to Social Stimuli," published in the current issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

In the study, 23 female undergraduates were tested to determine their level of loneliness. While in an fMRI scanner, the subjects were shown unpleasant pictures and human conflict as well as pleasant things such as money and happy people.

The subjects who rated as lonely were least likely to have strong activity in their ventral striata when shown pictures of people enjoying themselves.

Although loneliness may be influence brain activity, the research also suggests that activity in the ventral striatum may prompt feelings of loneliness, Decety said. "The study raises the intriguing possibility that loneliness may result from reduced reward-related activity in the ventral striatum in response to social rewards."

In addition to differing responses in the ventral striatum, the subjects also recorded differing responses in parts of the brain that indicated loneliness played a role in how their brain operates.

Joining Decety and Cacioppo in writing the Journal of Cognitive Science paper were Catherine Norris, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Dartmouth College; George Monteleone, a graduate student at the University of Chicago; and Howard Nusbaum, Chair of Psychology at the University of Chicago.

Decety and Cacioppo discussed the new field of brain mechanism in a paper in the current issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science. The new field extends the work of Charles Darwin, who "regarded the brain as a product of evolution and the science of psychology as concerned with these foundations," they wrote.

By studying brain mechanisms, researchers hope to gain new insights by examining mental activities surrounding consciousness, perception and thought through an understanding of how columns of neurons stacked next to each other form elementary circuits to function as a unit, they wrote.

New visualization tools such as three-dimensional imaging will help scholars develop a new way of studying psychology, they said.

"Psychological science in the 21st century can, and should, become not only the science of overt behavior, and not only the science of the mind, but also the science of the brain," they concluded.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Cacioppo et al. What Are the Brain Mechanisms on Which Psychological Processes Are Based? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2009; 4 (1): 10 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01094.x
  2. Cacioppo et al. In the Eye of the Beholder: Individual Differences in Perceived Social Isolation Predict Regional Brain Activation to Social Stimuli. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2009; 21 (1): 83 DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21007

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago. "Loneliness Affects How The Brain Operates." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090215151800.htm>.
University of Chicago. (2009, February 17). Loneliness Affects How The Brain Operates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090215151800.htm
University of Chicago. "Loneliness Affects How The Brain Operates." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090215151800.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins