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Loneliness and Social Networks

Posted Jan 20 2010 9:01pm

Loneliness has been linked to numerous health hazardsincluding: high blood pressureobesitysleep dysfunctiondepressioncompromised immunity and Alzheimer's disease and increased risk for cancer. A study published in the 2009 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that lonelinesslike happinesscan spread through our social networks. The studywhich followed more than 5,000 participants of the famous Framingham Heart Study for three decadesreported that loneliness and feelings of social isolation can travel from person to person throughout a social network up to three degrees of separation.

Researchers mapped out biannual reports from participants and their network of friends and family members and discovered that the lonely people 'infected' those around them over time. Scientists defined loneliness as a function of the quality of a person's relationshipsrather than the number of contacts in their personal network. Loneliness tended to beget negative behavior and more lonelinessas researchers observed people disconnecting from the few relationships they had left.

If we can look at loneliness as a signal like hunger or thirstwe can use it to warn us of a need that is not being met (in this caseour need to be able to rely on people we can trust). More tomorrow on what you can do to ease loneliness...


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