Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Mental Health Center

Font Size

Gene Link for Loneliness?

Tendency Toward Loneliness May Be Partly Inherited, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 10, 2005 -- Loneliness may partly be a genetic legacy, scientists report in Behavior Genetics.

They're not talking about occasionally feeling lonely in the wake of difficult life events, such as the loss of a loved one. It's normal to experience the full range of emotions, including loneliness, over time.

Instead, the researchers tracked loneliness over more than a decade in thousands of young adult twins in the Netherlands.

They estimate that genes may account for up to nearly half of the differences in loneliness they saw in their study.

The researchers included Dorret Boomsma, a professor at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

Tracking Loneliness

Boomsma's study included more than 8,300 identical and nonidentical twins. Twins are often studied to try to tease out genetic and environmental influences.

Here's the reasoning behind that. Identical twins share all of their genes. Nonidentical twins share half of their genes. If twins are raised in the same conditions, their genetic traits may stand out.

In the loneliness study, the twins got surveys by mail every three or four years, starting around age 17. They rated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as "I feel lonely" and "Nobody loves me."

Inherited Trait?

Some twins reported feeling lonelier than others. Genes account for nearly half of those differences, the researchers estimate.

About half of identical twins and nearly a quarter of nonidentical twins shared similar characteristics of loneliness, write Boomsma and colleagues.

While not dismissing environmental influences -- such as how parents respond to children -- the researchers didn't find any particular environmental factors that explained the results.

The genetics of loneliness seemed to treat men and women similarly. The same genes may influence loneliness in both sexes, write the researchers.

They note that loneliness studies in kids showed similar results. But Boomsma's team didn't dig into DNA to look for loneliness genes.

Personal Loneliness Level

Perhaps people have a "set point" for loneliness, write the researchers.

In other words, there may be a loneliness level for each person. People may rise above or dip below that set point as their lives unfold, driven both by genetic and environmental influences.

That's just a theory. It's not absolute and certainly shouldn't make anyone feel doomed to being lonely.

Reaching out to others, joining groups, and avoiding isolation may help you build a rich network. Being less lonely could also boost your immune system, other researchers reported in May.

Today on WebMD

Differences between feeling depressed or feeling blue.
lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
man screaming
Causes, symptoms, and therapies.
woman looking into fridge
When food controls you.
Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
senior man eating a cake
woman reading medicine warnings
depressed young woman
man with arms on table
man cringing and covering ears

WebMD Special Sections