Loneliness Changes Brain Processing, Unique to Each Individual – Neuroscience News

Summary: Lonely people process the world in unique ways, very different from those who are not lonely.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain processing patterns of 66 college students as they watched various video clips. The results show that individuals who experience loneliness show more unique and special brain processing patterns.

These findings may 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 lonely individuals.
  2. Individuals who experience loneliness exhibit more unique and privileged brain processing patterns compared to their non-lonely counterparts.
  3. Privileged processing patterns in lonely individuals were observed regardless of the number of social relationships or friends they had.

Source: USC

Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy may have been on to something when he wrote the opening lines Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all the same; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

A recent study published in Psychology and led by an undergraduate now at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, show that while the brain processes information, people who are not lonely are all the same, but each person who is lonely processes the world in their own, special way. road.

Credits: Neuroscience News

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

A recent report from the United States’ office of the General of Surgery called loneliness a public health crisis in response to the growing number of adults suffering from this condition. Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of US adults reported experiencing some measure of loneliness.

Loneliness is special

While she is a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, Elisa Baek, assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife, is trying to better understand what causes feelings of disconnection and misunderstood.

Baek and his team used a neuroimaging technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of 66 first-year college students while they watched a series of video clips. The videos range in topic from sentimental music videos to party scenes and sporting events, providing a wide variety of scenarios for analysis.

Before being scanned, the participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 21, were asked to complete the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a survey that measures a person’s feelings of loneliness and feelings of social isolation.

Based on the survey results, the researchers separated the participants into two groups: lonely and “non-lonely” (those who don’t experience loneliness). They then scanned each participant’s brain using fMRI while the participants watched the videos.

Comparing the brain imaging data between the two groups, the researchers found that individuals who were lonelier showed more distinct and privileged brain processing patterns than their non-lonely counterparts.

This finding is important because it reveals that neural similarity, which refers to how similar the brain activity patterns of different individuals are, is linked to a shared understanding of the world. This shared understanding is important for building social relationships.

People who suffer from loneliness are not only less consistent with societal norms for processing the world, but each lonely person is also different in unique ways. That uniqueness can then have an impact on feelings of isolation and a lack of social connections.

Baek said, “It was surprising to find that lonely people are even less alike.” The fact that they find no common ground with lonely or non-lonely people makes achieving social connections more difficult for them.

“The ‘Anna Karenina principle’ is an apt description for lonely people, because they experience loneliness in a special way, not in a way that is universally accepted,” he adds.

Loneliness is not about having or not having friends

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

Researchers observed that individuals with high levels of loneliness — regardless of how many friends or social connections they had — were more likely to have idiosyncratic brain responses.

This raises the possibility that being surrounded by people who see the world differently from oneself could be a risk factor for loneliness, even if one regularly socializes with them.

The study also shows that because social connection or disconnection fluctuates over time, it can affect the degree to which individuals process the world in a idiosyncratic way.

Moving forward, Baek said he is interested in researching people who have friends and are socially active but still feel lonely. In addition, researchers looked at certain situations that lonely individuals process differently.

For example, do lonely people display idiosyncrasies when processing unexpected events or ambiguous social contexts in which things could be interpreted differently?

Funding: Funding for this research came from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

About this loneliness and neuroscience research news

Author: Ileana Wachtel
Source: USC
Contact: Ileana Wachtel—USC
Picture: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
“Lonely Individuals Process the World in Distinguished Ways” by Elisa Baek et al. Psychology


Abstract

Lonely Individuals Process the World in a Special Way

Loneliness is detrimental to well-being and is often accompanied by self-reported feelings of not being understood by others. What causes such feelings in a lonely person?

We used functional MRI of 66 first-year college students to surreptitiously measure the relative attunement of human mental processing to naturalistic stimuli and test whether lonely people actually process the world in idiosyncratic ways.

We find evidence for such idiosyncrasies: the neural responses of lonely individuals differ from those of their counterparts, especially in regions of the default mode network where similar responses have been linked to shared perspectives and subjective understanding. This relationship persisted when we controlled for demographic similarity, objective social isolation, and the individuals’ friendship with each other.

Our findings raise the possibility that being surrounded by people who see the world differently from oneself, even if they are friends with them, may be a risk factor for loneliness.

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