Lonely individuals process the world in idiosyncratic ways

3 Jul 2021  ·  Elisa C. Baek, Ryan Hyon, Karina López, Meng Du, Mason A. Porter, Carolyn Parkinson ·

Loneliness is detrimental to well-being and is often accompanied by self-reported feelings of not being understood by others. What contributes to such feelings in lonely people? We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 66 participants to unobtrusively measure the relative alignment of people's mental processing of naturalistic stimuli and tested whether or not lonely people actually process the world in idiosyncratic ways. We found evidence for such idiosyncrasy: lonely individuals' neural responses were dissimilar to their peers, particularly in regions of the default-mode network in which similar responses have been associated with shared perspectives and subjective understanding. These relationships persisted when controlling for demographic similarities, objective social isolation, and participants' friendships with each other. Our findings suggest the possibility that being surrounded by people who see the world differently from oneself, even if one is friends with them, may be a risk factor for loneliness.

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