Loneliness Can Be Contagious
Lonely People Have a Way of Making Others Feel the Isolation, Researchers Say
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 1, 2009 -- Loneliness can spread like a contagious disease, new
Lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others, and their feelings
of isolation and despair rub off on friends, neighbors, spouses, and even
acquaintances, researchers report in the December issue of the Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology.
The team of researchers, led by John T. Cacioppo, PhD, of the University of
Chicago, followed 5,214 participants of the Framingham Heart Study from 1971 to
2001. Cacioppo and colleagues studied data on individuals in a second
generation of the study.
“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be
moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,” Cacioppo says
in a news release. “On the periphery, people have fewer friends, yet their
loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left.”
They found, among other things, that:
- On average, people felt lonely 48 days in a year.
- For each extra friend, you lower the frequency of feeling lonely by 0.04
days a week which is two extra days a year.
- Lonely people tend to move to the edges of social circles.
- People who are not lonely but who have lonely people in their social
network tend to become lonelier
- Women are more likely than men to report greater degree of loneliness.
And, women’s loneliness is more likely to spread to people in their
- Peoples’ chances of becoming lonely were more likely to be influenced by
friendship networks than family networks.
Also, the researchers report that:
- Loneliness feeds on itself, as groups develop a tendency to push lonely
people to the periphery of social networks.
"An important implication of [the study] is that interventions to reduce
loneliness in our society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in
the periphery to help repair their social networks,” the authors conclude. “By
helping them, we might create a protective barrier against loneliness that can
keep the whole network from unraveling.”