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Saturday, April 8, 2017

How Loneliness Begets More Loneliness

Loneliness is bad for your health, that much we know.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy once remarked that despite the ubiquity of social media, Americans are facing "an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation."
One of the worst things about loneliness is that it can be a self-perpetuating loop:
... in a cruel twist, the loneliest among us are set up to get lonelier still. People with few social connections experience brain changes that cause them to be more likely to view human faces as threatening, making it harder for them to bond with others.
In this interesting article over The Atlantic, Olga Khazan spoke with University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo about why people are getting lonelier and how to break the loneliness cycle:
Khazan: Why do people who are lonely interpret social situations more negatively?
Cacioppo: [...] If you look at early humans and other hominids, they were not uniformly positive toward each other. We exploit each other, we punish each other, we threaten each other, we coerce. And so it isn't that I want to connect with anyone, I need to worry about friend or foe. Just like bitter versus sweet, poison vs. non poison, if I make an error and detect a person as a foe who turns out to be a friend, that's okay, I don’t make the friend as fast, but I survive.
But if I mistakenly detect someone as a friend when they're a foe, that can cost me my life. Over evolution, we’ve been shaped to have this bias.
That sets up an expectation, because what I expect is often what I see. If I think you're going to be hostile, I'm going to answer questions very differently than if I trust you.
You’re motivated to connect. But promiscuous connection with others can lead to death. A neural mechanism kicks in to make you a little skeptical or dubious about connecting.
Read the rest over at The Atlantic.

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