Loneliness May Be Catching


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Like the Flu, Loneliness Can Be Infectious

Tired office worker

By Cynthia Ross Cravit

Like the flu, loneliness can be infectious. Read our tips for easing the pain. People who are struggling with a persistent sense of loneliness or social isolation may cause other people to feel lonely — even people they don’t actually know. In much the same way that strong emotions such as happiness can spread through social networks, a new US study has found that loneliness can travel from person to person, up to three degrees of separation.

So in other words, if your neighbour’s boss’s cousin is feeling lonely, you just might feel it too. The study, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, followed more than 5,000 participants of the Framingham Heart Study from 1971 to 2001. It was the second generation of a study that began back in 1948 to identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease and has since been expanded to study topics such as obesity, happiness and loneliness. For the loneliness portion of the study, researchers evaluated participants every two to four years and at the same time collected names of their friends and family members.

Using these records, the researchers then constructed graphs mapping the subjects’ social histories as well as information about their reports of feeling lonely. From this a pattern emerged: Lonely people were, over time, seemingly ‘infecting’ the people around them with loneliness. In fact, if one person reported feeling lonely at one evaluation, his closest connections were 52 per cent more likely to report feeling lonely two years later. The timing, researchers say, rules out the possibility that lonely people simply sought out one another. And while loneliness was most contagious among close friends and family members, it remained significant up to three degrees of separation — or to your friend’s friend’s friend.


This article was courtesy of 50Plus.