Brain structure links loneliness to social perception

Kanai, Ryota, Bahnrami, Bahador, Duchaine, Brad, Janik, Agnieszka, Banissy, Michael J., and Rees, Geraint (2012) Brain structure links loneliness to social perception. Current Biology, 22 (20). pp. 1975-1979.

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Loneliness is the distressing feeling associated with the perceived absence of satisfying social relationships [1]. Loneliness is increasingly prevalent in modern societies [2 and 3] and has detrimental effects on health and happiness [4 and 5]. Although situational threats to social relationships can transiently induce the emotion of loneliness, susceptibility to loneliness is a stable trait that varies across individuals [6, 7 and 8] and is to some extent heritable [9, 10 and 11]. However, little is known about the neural processes associated with loneliness (but see [12, 13 and 14]). Here, we hypothesized that individual differences in loneliness might be reflected in the structure of the brain regions associated with social processes [15]. To test this hypothesis, we used voxel-based morphometry and showed that lonely individuals have less gray matter in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS)—an area implicated in basic social perception. As this finding predicted, we further confirmed that loneliness was associated with difficulty in processing social cues. Although other sociopsychological factors such as social network size, anxiety, and empathy independently contributed to loneliness, only basic social perception skills mediated the association between the pSTS volume and loneliness. Taken together, our results suggest that basic social perceptual abilities play an important role in shaping an individual's loneliness.

Item ID: 45031
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-0445
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This article is published under an open access license CC-BY 4.0.

Funders: Wellcome Trust (WT), Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Japan Science and Technology Agency (JSTA), British Academy, Danish National Research Foundation, Danish Research Council for Culture and Communication, European Union (EU), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Projects and Grants: WT 091593/Z/10/Z/, EU MindBridge project
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2016 01:18
FoR Codes: 17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170101 Biological Psychology (Neuropsychology, Psychopharmacology, Physiological Psychology) @ 50%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170112 Sensory Processes, Perception and Performance @ 25%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1702 Cognitive Science > 170205 Neurocognitive Patterns and Neural Networks @ 25%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 100%
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