Gene Link for Loneliness?
Tendency Toward Loneliness May Be Partly Inherited, Study Shows
WebMD News Archive
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
Boomsma's study included more than 8,300 identical and nonidentical twins.
Twins are often studied to try to tease out genetic and environmental
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
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
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.
researchers reported in May.