Numerous scientific studies carried out in recent years have shown that loneliness is an important determinant of health, because it is associated with considerable risks for physical and mental health and a lower life expectancy. But new knowledge about neural activity linked to loneliness could help improve the way scientists treat it, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and thus reduce the many health impacts associated with it. this feeling. Their published study in the review Cerebral Cortex indeed affirms that the brain reacts to loneliness in a way almost exactly opposite to the way he reacts to the sense of wisdom.
Researchers have found that specific regions of the brain respond to emotional stimuli related to loneliness and wisdomin the opposite way. A finding that adds to the growing body of research which suggests that the wiser we think we are, the less lonely we feel. Although the loneliness-wisdom association has already been highlighted, this is the first time that scientists have examined this apparent link at the neural level. “We were interested in the relationship between loneliness and wisdom and emotional biases, that is, how we react to different positive and negative emotions, ”explains Professor Jyoti Mishra, lead author of the study.
Lonely people more sensitive to feelings of anger
The study involved 147 participants aged 18 to 85 who were asked to perform a cognitive task to determine which direction an arrow was pointing while faces with different emotions were shown in the background. Each person agreed to run brain EEG recordings in parallel. “We found that when anger-emitting faces were presented as distractors, they slowed down simple cognitive responses in the most lonely people. It means that the loneliest people paid more attention to threatening stimuli, such as angry faces, ”the researchers note.
For wisdom, in contrast, the latter found a significant positive relationship for response rates when faces with happy emotions were shown. In particular, individuals who displayed wiser traits, such asempathy, had faster responses in the presence of happy stimuli. It turns out that brain recordings based on electroencephalograms showed that a part of the brain called the temporoparietal junction activated differently in the loneliest and wisest individuals. This area of the brain is important for processing theory of mind, or the degree of capacity for empathy and understanding of others.
A discovery that can lead to treatment
Thus, this brain area was more active in the presence of anger emotions for lonely people and more active in the presence of happy emotions. for the wiser people. The researchers also noted greater activity of threatening stimuli for the more lonely individuals in the left upper parietal cortex, the region of the brain important for the allocation of attention, while wisdom was significantly linked to improved activity. motivated by happy emotions in the left brain insula, the region of the brain responsible for social characteristics such as empathy, the ability to understand or put yourself in another person’s shoes.
“This study shows that the inverse relationbetween loneliness and wisdom that we found in our previous clinical studies is at least partly integrated into neurobiology and is not simply the result of subjective biases, ”the researchers point out. The scientific team believes that these new findings are important when it comes to the mental and physical health of individuals, as they give an objective neurobiological idea about how people the loneliest or the wisest process information in the brain. However, further research is still needed, including analysis of participants over a longer study period.
“Having biological markers that we can measure in the brain can help develop effective treatments. Maybe we can answer the question: can we make a person wiser or less alone ? “, Add the researchers. The temporoparietal junction is an area being studied as a way to treat conditions like auditory hallucinations and tinnitus: it is possible that neural stimulation can also help relieve a strong sense of loneliness. “We believe these cognitive brain markers are the key to developing better health care that could fight against the epidemic of loneliness », They conclude.