Journal and Courier Article- Research shows loneliness can be contagious

Research shows loneliness can be contagious

Journal & Courier - Lafayette, Ind.

Author:

TAYA FLORES

Date:

Dec 21, 2009

Start Page:

n/a

Section:

LIFE

Text Word Count:

520

Document Text

About a year ago, Rachel Stroud moved from southern California to West Lafayette to attend Purdue University.

Stroud had moved to a new place with few friends, and loneliness descended upon her like a storm cloud. She had only one friend with whom to commiserate and, looking back, she thinks her feelings may have rubbed off on her lone friend.

"We could get stuck in a rut sometimes," the 21-year-old said.

According to new psychology research, loneliness is contagious --having the ability to spread through a group of friends like the common cold.

The study, which was published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that loneliness gets transmitted across social networks and over time the people become more isolated.

John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and study co-author, described how loneliness spreads.

He said a lonely person wants to reconnect with friends but is keenly aware of the possible social threat of rejection that personal relationships pose.

Consequently, a lonely person is more likely to be hostile toward friends and this behavior spreads across social networks. However, it only extends up to three degrees of separation and after that it is not noticeable, he added.

The study found that loneliness spreads more quickly than the spread of perceived social connections. It also spreads quicker among friends than family members and among women than men.

To ward off loneliness, Cacioppo recommended people understand it. He said loneliness is not a personality defect but a biological signal, similar to hunger, thirst and pain. He said loneliness signals the need for meaningful relationships with trustworthy people.

"Loneliness contributes to our humanity," he said. "It makes us empathetic."

This need that is stirred up by loneliness implies that people need to be generous to others and not self-serving, Cacioppo advised.

Although loneliness might make a person toxic for a short time, it also compels them to connect with others, which most people are able to do, he said. However, some people get caught in chronic states of loneliness, he added.

Buck Black, a licensed clinical social worker with Heartland Clinic in Lafayette, said he believes loneliness can be contagious to a certain degree.

"When you associate with any person of a particular attitude you are more likely to have that attitude or behavior," he said.

The importance of relationships

Buck Black, a licensed clinical social worker with Heartland Clinic in Lafayette, said a person can have many relationships and still feel lonely or unconnected.

To harbor deep, meaningful relationships that ward off the unpleasant feeling, Black recommends analyzing one's thoughts and feelings about loneliness and then taking action to remedy the situation.

A key way to do this is to form deep meaningful relationships, he said. One can accomplish this by meeting people either by joining a club, volunteering, hanging out in groups or in one-on-one settings.

But remember that close relationships take time and personal investment, Black advised. So, do an activity with someone. Active interaction helps to bring people closer than talking on the phone or chatting online.

-- Taya Flores, Journal & Courier

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Abstract (Document Summary)

According to new psychology research, loneliness is contagious --having the ability to spread through a group of friends like the common cold.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.