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Loneliness destroys the "map" of social connections in the brain
Scientists took a series of images of the brains of the study participants as they thought about themselves or other people. It turned out that loneliness can have a certain effect on the work of the brain in terms of the perception of others.
Photo: Judy Gallagher / Flickr
Our brain creates a "map" of social connections in a particular part of its cortex. A new study has shown that loneliness changes this "map": the brain begins to perceive the once close people as mere acquaintances. Scientific work published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) is the part of the brain that contains a "map" of a person's social connections. The main criterion for inclusion in this “map” is a feeling of closeness.
People who feel lonely perceive themselves as distant from others. At the same time, the brain begins to react in approximately the same way to others - regardless of the degree of their proximity. Scientists discovered this by observing MPPC using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
For the study, scientists took pictures of the brains of the participants in the experiment, while they thought about themselves, close friends, acquaintances and celebrities. Usually, the activity of the human brain is different when thinking about each of these categories of people. The higher the degree of closeness with the person whom the subject thinks about, the more the patterns of reactions in his brain resemble the patterns that arise when thinking about himself.
The discovery of scientists was that the brain of lonely people in a similar situation shows different reactions. With fMRI, lonely people had a different picture when thinking about themselves and others. But when lonely study participants thought of friends, acquaintances and celebrities, the pictures were similar, the reactions were not very differentiated, regardless of the level of connection with these people.
In the study's findings, the researchers point out that the new data should help understand why the brain exhibits weak connections when alone. One of the goals of such research is to find out how loneliness worsens health.
“The social brain seems to be mapping our social connections, and changes in this map may help explain why single people agree with statements like 'people around me, but not with me',” they write.