Being around people who don’t see the world the way you do makes you feel lonely, even if you’re friends with them.
Neuroimaging tests on 66 young people found significant differences in how the brains of lonely people process information compared to their peers.
A study from the University of California found that a significant difference existed not only between volunteers and those who are not lonely, but also between lonely people.
Psychologist Elisa Baek said: “It was surprising to find that lonely people were not really alike.
So what happens in the brains of people who feel isolated? Being misunderstood may be a big part of why some feel disconnected from others, and Baek and her colleagues wanted to learn more about this connection.
We all feel lonely in our lives, feeling emotional when we see the gap between the relationships we want and the real ones. Loneliness often affects our relationships more than the quantity, and it affects our health in several ways.
In their study of 66 first-year college students aged 18 to 21, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity while the students watched 14 videos.
The content was designed to be functional enough to minimize data gaps from the participants’ mind wandering during the task. The topics of the videos ranged from heartwarming music videos to parties and sporting events.
The participants completed the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a self-report measure to measure their feelings of loneliness and isolation, and were divided into two groups according to the results: lonely and “not lonely” (those who are not lonely).
Baek and team analyzed how 214 different brain regions responded over time to video clips, comparing activity between different people in each brain region to see how similar or different their responses were.
While non-lonely people were more similar neurologically, people with severe loneliness, regardless of how many friends they had, had unique brain responses.
“Our results show that lonely people change the world in a way that is different from their friends and from each other,” Baek and his colleagues wrote in their published paper, “which may help reduce the understanding that is often associated with loneliness.”
In particular, differences in neural responses between loners and peers were evident in social networking sites, where similar responses were associated with shared feelings and shared understanding. Loneliness was also associated with less uniformity in reward regions of the brain.
When they accounted for the equality of population, the actual isolation of people, and the relationships between people, these relationships still existed.
It is not known whether the unique changes in lonely people are the cause or the cause of their loneliness, but the misunderstandings that can affect the relationships that people can form.
“Finding that they don’t find common ground with people who are lonely or lonely makes socializing more difficult for them,” Baek says.
Being lonely can be dangerous and it doesn’t show to the people around us. Feeling isolated can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
We hope that further research can determine how to help lonely people feel connected and understood.
Research has been published in Psychological Science.