By Neuroscience News
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This famous line from Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" seems to have parallels in the realm of loneliness. Loneliness isn't a one-size-fits-all experience, it's individual and nuanced, much like the unhappy families in Tolstoy's narrative.
A recent study, published in Psychological Science, explores this concept, revealing that lonely individuals process the world in distinct, idiosyncratic ways. Spearheaded by a scholar at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the study seeks to uncover the correlation between loneliness and brain activity.
Loneliness is detrimental to well-being and often linked to feelings of being misunderstood. The U.S. Surgeon General's office even referred to loneliness as a public health crisis. Notably, half of U.S. adults reported experiencing significant levels of loneliness even before the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the urgency to understand this condition better.
In an endeavor to decipher the enigma of loneliness, researchers used a neuroimaging technique, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to study the brains of 66 college students. They observed the participants’ brain activity while they watched various video clips, ranging from sentimental music videos to sporting events.
The researchers observed two distinct groups based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale: the lonely and the non-lonely. They found that brain processing patterns in lonely individuals were more idiosyncratic and dissimilar compared to their non-lonely counterparts.
These findings imply that loneliness is not just about being distant from society's norms of processing the world, but each lonely person experiences it uniquely. This uniqueness could further intensify feelings of isolation and the struggle to establish social connections.
Does idiosyncratic processing cause loneliness, or is it a result of it? The research indicates that high levels of loneliness lead to unique brain responses, irrespective of the number of social connections. Thus, being surrounded by people with different perceptions might contribute to feelings of loneliness.
The study provides profound insights into the nature of loneliness and the associated brain activity. Future research is slated to delve deeper into specific situations and contexts that lonely individuals process differently, potentially paving the way for better strategies to combat loneliness.