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Toward a Neurology of Loneliness - The neurological effects of prolonged social isolation

lonely loneliness isolation depression friends relationships social

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#1 Bukujutsu

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Posted 03 December 2015 - 08:28 PM


Cross posting to this to multiple relevant subreddits and sites because after much research, analysis, introspection, and rumination I came to realize that it's really been on the proximal cause of the majority of problems in my life and my suffering. This is a key factor that many factor that many may be resistant to accept, like I was, and that many are unaware of just how significant it is. Those interested in related fields may also find this fascinating. The comments in the original thread are worth reading: https://www.reddit.c...he_neurological
 
Found this while researching the neurological effects of chronic (severe) social isolation. It's the most thorough overview I've found and demonstrates in horrifying detail how it's really one of the worst things you can do to yourself.
 
Not as long as it seems, 20 pages are tables on animal studies and the effects of depression found, along with a long reference section.
 
Page 2 in particular has a good overview of the changes that occur in a socially isolated brain.
 
Some key excerpts demonstrating just how bad the effects are compared to other detrimental factors, references removed to reduced size:  In 2010, a meta-analysis revealed that the odds ratio for increased mortality for loneliness is 1.45, which is approximately double the odds ratio for increased mortality for obesity and quadruple the odds ratio for air pollution
 
>Results showed that loneliness was associated with increased mortality risk over a 6-year period and that neither health behaviors nor objective features of social relationships (e.g., marital status, proximity to friends or family) could explain the association between loneliness and mortality.
 
>Several studies also indicate that loneliness is a risk factor for cognitive decline  and dementia. For
instance, Gow et al. (2007) investigated the correlates of changes in mental ability of 488 individuals from the Lothian Birth Cohort Study who were tested at ages 11 and 79. Among the variables tested were loneliness, social support, and objective social isolation, the last measured using a social network index (e.g., presence of significant others, number of significant others). After controlling for age, IQ, gender, years of education, and social class, only loneliness was associated significantly with changes in IQ. However, Gow et al. did not address the possibility that loneliness is a consequence rather than a predictor of cognitive decline.
>>Two recent longitudinal studies do speak to this question.
Results at the 10-year follow-up assessment revealed that two biological measures and loneliness independently predicted cognitive decline.
 Cox proportional hazards models that controlled for age, sex, and education indicated that loneliness significantly increased the risk of clinical Alzheimer’s disease, and this association was unchanged when objective social isolation and other demographic and health-related factors were included as covariates.
 
>Investigations designed to identify the mechanisms underlying the association between loneliness and mortality have found that
loneliness is associated not only with increased risk for age-related cognitive decline and dementia but also with increased sleep fragmentation, increased hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) activity, altered gene expression indicative of decreased inflammatory control and increased glucocorticoid insensitivity, ), increased inflammation, elevated vascular resistance and blood pressure, higher rates of metabolic syndrome, and diminished immunity. 
Loneliness has also been associated with changes in psychological states that can contribute to morbidity and mortality, including increased depressive symptomatology, lower subjective wellbeing, , heightened vigilance for social threats, and decreased executive functioning.
 
A section on neurogenesis begins on page 29.
 
Supporting articles:
 
Maslow Be Damned: How Social Belonging Trumps Everything (Based on the work of Thomas Joiner, who has written what are possibly the best books on suicide)
 
 
(A thread on this was posted before) One is the deadliest number: the detrimental effects of social isolation on cerebrovascular diseases and cognition.
 
 
Suicidal Thoughts 10 Times More Likely in Adults With Asperger’s
 
 
And there's much more out there.
 
It's really one of the worst things you can do to yourself. The last is particularly pertinent. Think about a person with psychosis and whether you could live the rest of your life like that, how most people would respond if asked that. What would cause a disorder to have a suicide rate even higher than that of psychosis? Humans weren't meant to be alone. In a way we're the most social, the most socially complex and cooperative, animals around, so much of our brain developed and is dedicated toward social behavior; when you take that away, everything can just fall apart.
 
It also skews your perceptions and can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle. If you have a disorder that makes social interaction/relationships painful or difficult, get help, start working on it, as soon as possible. As flawed, inadequate, as other people and the world may seem, it can't be anywhere near as bad as how you can end up after isolating yourself to the extent I did. Even if you feel happy now, you really won't understand just how bad it can get until you have no one in your life, which can occur after you leave your parents and school, have a job with little or no meaningful social interaction; and if you've never experienced a healthy, fulfilling, social life/relationships, you really won't have a good reference point for how differently you could have felt. There are so many ways that relationships help develop yourself, so many things you can miss out on. There really are good people in the world you can find, even if you feel alienated, extremely uncommon, and have thought patterns, ideologies, that reinforce your negative view. Try to be more forgiving and explore seeing things in a new way.
 
I'll share my own experience in the comments and answer any questions if anyone's interested. I essentially ended up as a hikikomori. I'm already trying to get as much help as I can, but it's probably going to be something that will haunt me and that I'll struggle with for the rest of my life, who knows how much permanent damage I may have done. An idea that's interested me is being the subject of a university study/research into the effects of prolonged severe social isolation. I have no idea how to go about this or whether anyone would be interested, if it's redundant and already been done before.

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#2 Dichotohmy

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Posted 05 December 2015 - 12:30 AM

How does the theory of the toxicity of social isolation explain schizoid personality disorder, misanthropy, hermits, or other conditions where the subject genuinely doesn't want or enjoy social contact?

I posit that these people have a lower propensity towards anxiety -whether by mental fortitude or neurology - and in turn, a lower propensity towards the deleterious HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS physiological effects that your research indicates drives the toxicity of loneliness. Thought disorders that either cause or derive from loneliness trigger anxiety, which triggers stress hormone release, which starts the vicious cycle of physiological effects. Therefore, if one can avoid being distressed, or is so lucky to not care about social isolation, how is it a toxic thing?

What about people who already have HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS issues that make social interaction difficult? I would imagine that these people isolate because of the pre-existing physiological condition - and furthermore that most, if not all, people who socially isolate fall under one of these physiological conditions being the cause of their social isolation. To what extent social isolation contributes to these pre-existing issues is unknowable, but suffice it to say, the condition is still going to be there if one breaks out of social isolation.
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#3 Wingless

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Posted 05 December 2015 - 03:34 AM

How does the theory of the toxicity of social isolation explain schizoid personality disorder, misanthropy, hermits, or other conditions where the subject genuinely doesn't want or enjoy social contact?

I posit that these people have a lower propensity towards anxiety -whether by mental fortitude or neurology - and in turn, a lower propensity towards the deleterious HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS physiological effects that your research indicates drives the toxicity of loneliness. Thought disorders that either cause or derive from loneliness trigger anxiety, which triggers stress hormone release, which starts the vicious cycle of physiological effects. Therefore, if one can avoid being distressed, or is so lucky to not care about social isolation, how is it a toxic thing?

What about people who already have HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS issues that make social interaction difficult? I would imagine that these people isolate because of the pre-existing physiological condition - and furthermore that most, if not all, people who socially isolate fall under one of these physiological conditions being the cause of their social isolation. To what extent social isolation contributes to these pre-existing issues is unknowable, but suffice it to say, the condition is still going to be there if one breaks out of social isolation.

 

 

There is also a scientific study which indicated that higher social status leads to increased dopamine receptor densities. Though. I question the validity of the study and it seems more like a correlation not a causation, (or simply that having denser dopamine receptors makes socializing more rewarding/enjoyable)

 

I constantly hear that all humans are social creatures and social interaction is necessary, but sometimes I question this. I am curious about OPs findings though.


Edited by Wingless, 05 December 2015 - 03:37 AM.


#4 MizTen

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Posted 05 December 2015 - 03:49 AM

How does the theory of the toxicity of social isolation explain schizoid personality disorder, misanthropy, hermits, or other conditions where the subject genuinely doesn't want or enjoy social contact?

I posit that these people have a lower propensity towards anxiety -whether by mental fortitude or neurology - and in turn, a lower propensity towards the deleterious HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS physiological effects that your research indicates drives the toxicity of loneliness. Thought disorders that either cause or derive from loneliness trigger anxiety, which triggers stress hormone release, which starts the vicious cycle of physiological effects. Therefore, if one can avoid being distressed, or is so lucky to not care about social isolation, how is it a toxic thing?

What about people who already have HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS issues that make social interaction difficult? I would imagine that these people isolate because of the pre-existing physiological condition - and furthermore that most, if not all, people who socially isolate fall under one of these physiological conditions being the cause of their social isolation. To what extent social isolation contributes to these pre-existing issues is unknowable, but suffice it to say, the condition is still going to be there if one breaks out of social isolation.

 

Although some people that you describe do have a lower tendency to anxiety, overall that's not the case, IME. People with those disorders often have also experienced trauma (possibly social trauma) that can be directly related to their disorders. Basically they are sometimes treated very badly by others due to some of their weird behaviours, causing them to shut down even further. Resulting extreme social isolation causes exacerbation of symptoms, a vicious cycle that some people live their whole lives repeating.This is one area, (social skills and mood management) that the correct psych therapy can really help turn around.
 



#5 Bukujutsu

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Posted 05 December 2015 - 10:23 PM

How does the theory of the toxicity of social isolation explain schizoid personality disorder, misanthropy, hermits, or other conditions where the subject genuinely doesn't want or enjoy social contact?

I posit that these people have a lower propensity towards anxiety -whether by mental fortitude or neurology - and in turn, a lower propensity towards the deleterious HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS physiological effects that your research indicates drives the toxicity of loneliness. Thought disorders that either cause or derive from loneliness trigger anxiety, which triggers stress hormone release, which starts the vicious cycle of physiological effects. Therefore, if one can avoid being distressed, or is so lucky to not care about social isolation, how is it a toxic thing?

What about people who already have HPAA, immunological, neurological, and ANS issues that make social interaction difficult? I would imagine that these people isolate because of the pre-existing physiological condition - and furthermore that most, if not all, people who socially isolate fall under one of these physiological conditions being the cause of their social isolation. To what extent social isolation contributes to these pre-existing issues is unknowable, but suffice it to say, the condition is still going to be there if one breaks out of social isolation.

 

I agree, there's bound to be variation, varying predisposition, just like anything else. Still, wouldn't the ideal be to treat this to allow them to have full lives?

 

That's not to say there's a correct or optimal lifestyle that fits everybody, but if you think about the complexity of the brain, how much is dedicated/involved in social interaction, the variety of biological responses/reactions it elicits, our evolutionary history and how complex social structures, cooperation, interaction and communication, shaped us etc. I think it's extremely unlikely that, without any interfering disorders (even with them, you can find ways to manage the severity, engage in cognitive behavioral therapy), anyone would be as happy as they could be without people in their lives than with them. People have varying needs, some may only need one person, but I think at least one meaningful deep fulfilling intimate relationship with a loved one you also consider your best friend is the minimum everyone would ideally attain, if possible.

 

Isolation definitely isn't for me, though, I took it to an extreme extent (practically a hikikomori) and completely closed myself off to everyone, even my own family, and had over a decade almost completely devoid of warmth and meaningful human relationships/interaction. I destroyed myself and displayed nearly every symptom that would be predicted to a strong/extreme extent, the absurd intervention, everything I read and thought of, the perfected dietary, exercise, and extreme supplement/drug regime was like running just to stay in place.

 

I'm sure if I hadn't intervened to such an extent, and effectively, I would be dead right now. At the very least I'd be in a far worse state, possibly in a psych ward/mental hospital or assisted living facility unable to take care of myself, gone insane. It just greatly slowed down my degradation and at best put me in stasis for a while.

 

There's too much that could be said about how it's effected me and what it will take to recover, that, realistically, I'll never fully recover and reach the full potential I could have had. To put it bluntly, it's a fucked up situation far worse than it appears. I hated the world and people about as much as you can at many points of my life and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, it's just wrong, something that shouldn't exist. My stoic demeanor and remnants of intelligence, my awareness and ability to express myself, masked how bad it was. Extremely skewed, lopsided, development.

 

Some of the comments in the reddit post are relevant to this: https://www.reddit.c...e_neurological/

 

I don't know if the stories of hermits finding enlightenment in isolation are true, genes are guaranteed to account for a large part of how well you can handle it, there will be a very strong self-selection effect, but maybe they learned things, had thoughts/realizations, that I haven't. I'm too weak at this point, though. Regardless, I doubt anything but a small fraction of a percentage of the population could attain it, and it's not a life I would want to live at this point, I've had enough of being alone for a lifetime.

 

 

This is too depressing and a pretty sad case, but it's just the ugly reality of what I've become.

 

" An idea that's interested me is being the subject of a university study/research into the effects of prolonged severe social isolation."

 

I really would like to do this, so if someone knows anyone in the San Francisco bay area that would be interested in a research project, let me know. You definitely develop abnormally and I'd love to have my brain scanned and analyzed. I don't want compensation and would be willing to devote unlimited time to it, it would just be mutually beneficial, I'd learn about myself and produce data that could help others.



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#6 Galaxyshock

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Posted 29 December 2015 - 12:45 PM

Ashwagandha is protective against detrimental effects of social isolation I believe.







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