Feeling connected to others is vital to a person's mental well-being, as well as physical health, research at the University of Chicago shows.
The studies, reported in a new book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, show that a sense of rejection or isolation disrupts not only abilities, will power and perseverance, but also key cellular processes deep within the human body.
The findings suggest that chronic loneliness belongs among health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise, according to lead author John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University.
"Loneliness not only alters behavior, but loneliness is related to greater resistance to blood flow through your cardiovascular system," Cacioppo said.
"Loneliness leads to higher rises in morning levels of the stress hormone cortisol, altered gene expression in immune cells, poorer immune function, higher blood pressure and an increased level of depression.
Loneliness also is related to difficulty getting a deep sleep and a faster progression of Alzheimer's disease, said Cacioppo. He drew on recent research in preparing the book, written with William Patrick, the former science editor at Harvard University Press. The book was just published by W.W. Norton.
One of the founders of a new discipline called social neuroscience, Cacioppo used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans and advanced scientific techniques to document the roles of loneliness and social connection as central regulatory mechanisms in human physiology and behavior.
The authors traced the need for connection to its evolutionary roots. In order to survive, humans needed to bond to rear their children. In order to flourish, they needed to extend their altruistic and cooperative impulses beyond narrow self-interest and immediate kin. But in the environment of
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University of Chicago