Study: Loneliness a Contagious Disease That Infects Others

December 1, 2009

(ChattahBox)—A new study found that people experiencing sadness and loneliness can spread their despondent feelings to others, which ultimately leads to a vicious cycle of social isolation. As a person is overcome with feelings of loneliness and withdraws from society, the person’s few remaining friends become “infected,” spreading sadness like the flu.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego and Harvard. The researchers used the data from the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 examining about 5,000 people for risks of cardiovascular disease. The study has been ongoing and expanded to over 10,000 participants.

Th researchers found that our social fabric is vulnerable to the effects of sadness and mental illness, which can rapidly infect others. Lead researcher, University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, pointed to the further isolation that develops when a lonely person infects others.

“On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left. These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater,” said Cacioppo.

Cacioppo said its important to treat chronically lonely people, before it’s too late and they permanently isolate from society. The study showed that loneliness develops into mistrust of others that makes it more difficult to form new social bonds.

Perhaps, people instinctively know that sadness and loneliness is contagious, and that’s why society eventually shuns lonely people. Cacioppo pointed out that in tests of monkeys, lonely social misfits were ostracized from the community.

The full study is available in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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4 Responses to “Study: Loneliness a Contagious Disease That Infects Others”

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