Lonely people have a different brain sign, which can help fill a social gap

The brains of people suffering from loneliness have their own cloud name, a new study has revealed, conclusions that could help us better understand the growing mental health problem in old age COVID-19.

Through a study of 38,701 middle-aged and older volunteers participating in the UK Biobank health database project, which combined data from MRI scans with self-assessments of feelings of loneliness, the researchers identified several between -differences in the brains of those who often felt lonely with those who did not.

These differences were based on the basic network in the brain, a group of areas related to mental exercises such as remembering, planning for the future, thinking about others, and think about situations.

“Without the social experiences you want, lonely people can be biased toward internally guided thoughts such as remembering or contemplating social experiences,” says the neurologist. Nathan Spreng of McGill University in Canada.

“We know that these cognitive abilities are centralized by the basic network brain regions, so this heightened focus on self-reflection, and perhaps imaginative social experiences, would naturally be involved. their actions are based on basic network memory. “

The researchers looked at what they called ‘trait loneliness’, the lasting negative effects a person personally experiences when socially isolated, rather than just spending time alone or the number of social connections. (people can have a lot of friends and still feel lonely, and vice versa. otherwise).

In the brains of people who often felt lonely, the underlying network was more strongly wired together, and more gray matter was observed, suggesting more activity or potential in these particular cloud regions.

Isolation was also linked to a fuller fornix, the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the underlying network to the hippocampus (which is very important for creating memories). Brain activity appears to make up for a social gap, the researchers suggest.

“In the context of a previous study, we conclude that, without the social experiences you want, individuals can be biased towards centralized internally led experiences. with basic network brain segments, ”the researchers wrote in their published paper.

Even before the global pandemic, loneliness had been linked to health problems including increased blood pressure, a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and premature death. People are not raised to be lonely.

It is therefore important that scientists and medical professionals understand how loneliness develops and how it affects the brain – areas of research that we still have a lot to learn.

According to this large sample of volunteers, brain changes due to loneliness are more related to what you might call an internal voice than how the brain processes information from the outside. , which should be a good basis for future studies.

“We’re just starting to understand the effects of loneliness on the brain,” says biochemical engineer Danilo Bzdok, of McGill University. “Expanding our knowledge in this area will help us gain a better understanding of how quickly it is reducing loneliness in today’s society.”

The research was published in Nature Communication.