Like blood pressure, loneliness is sometimes not easy to detect. People who have many friends and a social network can feel lonely if they find their relationships unsatisfying, Hawkley said. Conversely, people who live rather solitary lives may not be lonely if their few relationships are meaningful and rewarding.
The team based its research on a study of 229 people aged 50 to 68. The randomly chosen group included whites, African Americans and Latinos who were part of a long-term study on aging. Members of the group were asked a series of questions to determine if they perceived themselves as lonely. They were asked to rate connections with others through a series of topics, such as "I have a lot in common with the people around me," "My social relationships are superficial" and "I can find companionship when I want it."
During the five-year study, Hawkley found a clear connection between feelings of loneliness reported at the beginning of the study and rising blood pressure over that period. "The increase associated with loneliness wasn't observable until two years into the study, but then continued to increase until four years later," she said.
Even people with modest levels of loneliness were impacted. Among all the people in the sample, the loneliest people saw their blood pressure go up by 14.4 mm more than the blood pressure of their most socially contented counterparts over the four-year study period.
Lonely people's apprehension about social connections may underlie the blood pressure increase.
"Loneliness is characterized by a motivational impulse to connect with others but also a fear of negative evaluation, rejection and disappointment," Hawkley said. "We hypothesize that threats to one's sense of safety and security with others are toxic components of
|Contact: William Harms|
University of Chicago