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Surprising Science

Your Brain Is Hungry for a Social Life — It Doesn’t Like You Feeling Lonely

Researchers attempt to find out what triggers loneliness in the brain.

By nature, humans are social creatures. When the feeling of loneliness comes over us, it’s our brain’s way of motivating us to find a social group. So, how does the brain trigger this feeling? A group of researchers wanted to find out.

Their study was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Psychologist Tristen Inagaki, from the University of Pittsburgh, said to Dylan Goldstein of Braindecoder:

“We were able to narrow our focus on the ventral striatum based on this region’s relevance to close relationships and ‘yearning’ for or wanting pleasant stimuli, such as chocolate.”

This relationship may explain other studies, where it was found that healthy, lonely women tend to consume more food.

Inagaki and her team looked inside participants’ brains using fMRI scans. The participants self-reported their feelings of loneliness before going into the machine, wherein they were shown pictures of close friends and strangers. The researchers found participants with “greater reported loneliness” showed “increased [ventral striatum] activity to viewing a close other (vs. stranger).” In comparison, those who reported less longing for social interaction showed no significant difference in ventral striatum activity when viewing close friends and strangers. However, researchers are uncertain whether the ventral striatum is the trigger for feeling lonely or the result of feeling lonely.

Inagaki said:

“We would want to know whether this relationship has any real-world implications for how those suffering from feelings of loneliness interact with their loved ones.”

Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, explains how taking part in social communities through giving makes us feel better: charity stimulates the same part of the brain as when we eat delicious foods or fall in love.

Read more at Braindecoder.

Photo Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA / Getty (top); Mindmo / Shutterstock (middle).


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