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What does loneliness look like in the brain?

Brain images from people experiencing loneliness show distinct features within certain neural regions, suggesting that those who feel lonely may be able to fill their desire for human connection by imagining social contexts and interactions

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Human connection is a key factor in people’s physical and mental health. However, the impacts of COVID-19 and the need for physical distancing are making it challenging to avoid feelings of isolation.

A new study by researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital in Canada, the results of which now appear in the journal Nature CommunicationsTrusted Source, suggests that the brains of people who experience loneliness display specific patterns in a network of regions called the default network.

This network is associated with thinking processes, including the abilities to remember, imagine, and plan for different moments in time.

Participants for this study were around 40,000 individuals from the UK Biobank imaging-genetics cohort, which is an open access biomedical database. The researchers collected initial data for their study through a self-assessment questionnaire on loneliness, along with genetic and lifestyle factors.

The study paper notes that the measure of loneliness was not necessarily dependent on the amount of social contact that each person had. Instead, the team focused on self-perceived loneliness.

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