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Loneliness May Be Catching
Date:12/1/2009

Study suggests that 'less affirming,' isolating behaviors jump from friend to friend

TUESDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that lonely people attract fellow "lonelies" and influence others to feel lonely, too.

"Loneliness can spread from person to person to person -- up to three degrees of separation," said James H. Fowler, co-author of the study published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

"What this means is that if I don't know anything about you, but I know your friend's friend is lonely, then I can do better than chance at predicting whether or not you will be lonely," he said.

Indeed, the study suggests that not only is loneliness contagious, but lonely people tend to isolate themselves in small groups that somehow compound or increase those feelings of solitude.

According to Fowler, the data suggests that the average person feels lonely about 48 days a year, but for the lonely, that feeling can be ever-present. In addition, the study indicated that people who felt lonely were more likely to be friendless, or constantly shedding friends, a few years later: Compared with those who are never lonely, lonely people can lose about 8 percent of their friends over a four-year period, for instance.

Fowler co-authored the findings, funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, with John T. Cacioppo, professor at the University of Chicago, and Nicholas A. Christakis, professor at Harvard University. The researchers worked with more than 5,100 participants who were the offspring of the original subjects of the landmark Framingham Heart Study.

The team constructed graphs tracking the participants' ongoing friendship patterns over two to four years. They found that, among neighbors, an increase of loneliness of just one day per week triggered a ri
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