Loneliness can spread among groups of people. Lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. Gradually over time, a group of lonely, disconnected people moves to the fringes of social networks.
The study is published in the article, “Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network,” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical diseases that can shorten life, psychologist John Cacioppo said it is important for people to recognize loneliness and help those people connect with their social group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.
For the study, the team examined records of the Framingham Heart Study, which has studied people in Framingham, Mass. since 1948.
The team found that the next-door neighbors in the survey who experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an increase in loneliness among their neighbors who were their close friends. The loneliness spread as the neighbors spent less time together.
“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,” said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left.”
The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.
Source: University of Chicago, USA