Just as physical pain is a prompt to change behavior (such as moving a finger away from the fire), loneliness evolved as a prompt to action, signaling an ancestral need to repair the social bonds. Feelings of loneliness take a variety of forms, Cacioppo said.
"There are three core dimensions to feeling lonelyintimate isolation, which comes from not having anyone in your life you feel affirms who you are; relational isolation, which comes from not having face-to-face contacts that are rewarding; and collective isolation, which comes from not feeling that you're part of a group or collective beyond individual existence," he said.
It is not solitude or physical isolation itself, but rather the subjective sense of isolation that Cacioppo's work shows to be so profoundly disruptive. Yet, outward circumstances such as moving to a new community or losing an intimate partner can trigger loneliness.
And as the authors make clear, today's culture is not always conducive to promoting strong social bonds.
The problem of social isolation will likely grow as conventional societal structures fade. The average household size is decreasing, and by 2010, 31 million Americansroughly 10 percent of the populationwill live alone. Sociologists also have found that people report significantly fewer close friends and confidants than those a generation ago.
Cacioppo and Patrick also demonstrate how loneliness creates a feedback loop that reinforces social anxiety, fear and other negative feelings. By learning more about what underlies this experience, then learning to reframe their response, lonely individuals can reverse the feedback loop, overcome fear and find ways to reconnect.
"We try to offer some help for those who've become stuck," said Patrick. "The process begins in rediscovering those positive, physiological sensations that come during the simplest m
|Contact: William Harms|
University of Chicago