Loneliness is contagious too

December 1st, 2009 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 1 (IANS) Loneliness, like a bad cold, is contagious too, according to a latest finding.
Using data from a large-scale study, following health conditions for more than 60 years, a team found that lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others.

Gradually over time, a group of lonely, disconnected people move to the fringes of social networks, says the study conducted by Universities of Chicago (UC), California-San Diego (UC-SD) and Havard.

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,” said UC psychologist John Cacioppo, a professor and member of the research team.

“On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left,” added Cacioppo.

Before relationships are severed, people on the periphery transmit feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, who also become lonely.

“These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater,” said Cacioppo.

Because loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical diseases that can shorten life, Cacioppo said it is important for people to recognise loneliness and help those people connect with their social group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.

Previous work suggested that women rely on emotional support more than men do, and in this study women were more likely than men to report “catching” loneliness from others.

People’s chances of becoming lonely were more likely to be caused by changes in friendship networks than changes in family networks, said a joint release of UC, UC-SD and Harvard.

These findings are slated for publication in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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