Lonely people see the world differently, according to their brains

A person sitting alone at a table with a cake on it. The man is wearing a festive hat.

Enlarge (credit: D. Anschutz)

There is a reason countless songs about loneliness exist. Many are relatable, since feeling alone is often part of being human. But a particular song or experience that resonates with one lonely person may mean nothing to someone else who feels isolated and misunderstood.

Human beings are social creatures. Those who feel left out often experience loneliness. To investigate what goes on in the brains of lonely people, a team of researchers at UCLA conducted noninvasive brain scans on subjects and found something surprising. The scans revealed that non-lonely individuals were all found to have a similar way of processing the world around them. Lonely people not only interpret things differently from their non-lonely peers, but they even see them differently from each other.

“Our results suggest that lonely people process the world idiosyncratically, which may contribute to the reduced sense of being understood that often accompanies loneliness,” the research team, led by psychologist Elisa Baek of USC Dornsife, said in a study recently published in Psychological Science. 

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