Cover Your Mouth When You’re Lonely
From an article in the Washington Post:
Although it may sound counterintuitive, loneliness can spread from one person to another, according to research being released Tuesday that underscores the power of one person’s emotions to affect friends, family and neighbors.
The federally funded analysis of data collected from more than 4,000 people over 10 years found that lonely people increase the chances that someone they know will start to feel alone, and that the solitary feeling can spread one more degree of separation, causing a friend of a friend or even the sibling of a friend to feel desolate.
“Loneliness can be transmitted,” said John T. Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist who led the study being published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Loneliness is not just the property of an individual. It can be transmitted across people — even people you don’t have direct contact with.”
A skeptic raises doubts in the same article:
But some researchers expressed skepticism about the findings, saying the study had the same shortcoming as the earlier work and could not necessarily rule out other explanations for the apparent association.
“It is unclear whether their statistical model will ‘find’ social contagion in every outcome they examine because of the limitations,” Jason M. Fletcher of Yale University wrote in an e-mail. He and a colleague conducted a similar analysis using data from a large federal survey to show that acne, headaches and even height could appear to be spread through social networks if not analyzed properly.
A purported explanation:
Although the study did not examine how loneliness spreads, Cacioppo said other research has provided clues. People who feel lonely tend to act in negative ways toward those they do have contact with, perpetuating the behavior and the emotion, he said.
“Let’s say for whatever reason — the loss of a spouse, a divorce — you get lonely. You then interact with other people in a more negative fashion. That puts them in a negative mood and makes them more likely to interact with other people in a negative fashion and they minimize their social ties and become lonely,” Cacioppo said.