Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Social Isolation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Isolation. Show all posts

Monday, December 26, 2022

Is loneliness in emerging adults increasing over time? A preregistered cross-temporal meta-analysis and systematic review

Buecker, S., Mund, M., Chwastek, S., Sostmann, M.,
& Luhmann, M. (2021). 
Psychological Bulletin, 147(8), 787–805.


Judged by the sheer amount of global media coverage, loneliness rates seem to be an increasingly urgent societal concern. From the late 1970s onward, the life experiences of emerging adults have been changing massively due to societal developments such as increased fragmentation of social relationships, greater mobility opportunities, and changes in communication due to technological innovations. These societal developments might have coincided with an increase in loneliness in emerging adults. In the present preregistered cross-temporal meta-analysis, we examined whether loneliness levels in emerging adults have changed over the last 43 years. Our analysis is based on 449 means from 345 studies with 437 independent samples and a total of 124,855 emerging adults who completed the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale between 1976 and 2019. Averaged across all studies, loneliness levels linearly increased with increasing calendar years (β = .224, 95% CI [.138, .309]). This increase corresponds to 0.56 standard deviations on the UCLA Loneliness Scale over the 43-year studied period. Overall, the results imply that loneliness can be a rising concern in emerging adulthood. Although the frequently used term “loneliness epidemic” seems exaggerated, emerging adults should therefore not be overlooked when designing interventions against loneliness.

Impact Statement

Public Significance Statement—The present cross-temporal meta-analysis suggests that loneliness in emerging adults slightly increased over historical time from 1976 until 2019. Consequently, emerging adults should not be overlooked when designing future interventions or public health campaigns against loneliness.

From the Discussion Section

Contrary to the idea that loneliness has sharply increased since smartphones gained market saturation (in about 2012; Twenge et al., 2018), our data showed that loneliness in emerging adults remained relatively stable since 2012 but gradually increased when looking at longer periods (i.e., from 1976 until 2019). It, therefore, seems unlikely that the increased smartphone use has led to increases in emerging adults’ loneliness. However, other societal developments since the late 1970s, such as greater mobility and fragmentation of social networks, may explain increases in emerging adults’ loneliness over historical time. Since our meta-analysis cannot provide information on other age  groups such as children and  adolescents,  the  role  of  smartphone  use  on  loneliness  could  be different in other age groups. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Social isolation and the brain in the pandemic era

Bzdok, D., and Dunbar, R.
Nat Hum Behav 6, 1333–1343 (2022).


Intense sociality has been a catalyst for human culture and civilization, and our social relationships at a personal level play a pivotal role in our health and well-being. These relationships are, however, sensitive to the time we invest in them. To understand how and why this should be, we first outline the evolutionary background in primate sociality from which our human social world has emerged. We then review defining features of that human sociality, putting forward a framework within which one can understand the consequences of mass social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, including mental health deterioration, stress, sleep disturbance and substance misuse. We outline recent research on the neural basis of prolonged social isolation, highlighting especially higher-order neural circuits such as the default mode network. Our survey of studies covers the negative effects of prolonged social deprivation and the multifaceted drivers of day-to-day pandemic experiences.


The human social world is deeply rooted in our primate ancestry. This social world is, however, extremely sensitive to the time we invest in it. Enforced social isolation can easily destabilize its delicate equilibrium. Many of the psychological sequalae of COVID-19 lockdowns are readily understood as resulting from the dislocation of these deeply rooted social processes. Indeed, many of these findings could have been anticipated long before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, almost one in ten Europeans admitted never meeting friends or family outside of their own household in the course of an entire year, with direct consequences for their psychological and physical health. Solitary living made up >50% of households in a growing number of metropolitan cities worldwide and has long been thought to be the cause of increasing levels of depression and psychological dystopia. Indeed, aversive feelings of social isolation probably serve as a biological warning signal that alerts individuals to improve their social relationships.

Three key points emerge from our present assessment. One is that COVID-19 and associated public health restrictions to curb the spread of the virus are likely to have demonstrable mental health and psychosocial ramifications for years to come. This will inevitably place a significant burden on our health systems and societies. The impact may, however, be largely restricted to specific population strata. Older people, for example, are likely to face disproportionately adverse consequences. Worryingly, prolonged social isolation seems to invoke changes in the capacity to visualize internally centred thoughts, especially in younger sub-population. This may presage a switch from an outward to an inward focus that may exacerbate the experience of social isolation in susceptible individuals. The longer-term implications of this are, however, yet to be determined. Second, the experience of undergoing social isolation is known to have significant effects on the structure and function of the hippocampus and default network, long recognized as a primary neural pathway implicated in the pathophysiology of dementia and other major neurodegenerative diseases as well as in effective social function. The fact that these same brain regions turn up in the neuroanatomical consequences of COVID-19 infection is concerning. Our third key point is that social determinants that condition inequality in our societies have strong impacts on lived day-to-day pandemic experiences. This is highlighted by the negative outcomes from COVID-19 for families of lower socio-economic status, single-parent households, and those with racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

As a note of caution, in our judgement, few datasets or methodological tools exist today to definitively establish causal directionality in many of the population effects we have surveyed in this review. For example, many of the correlative links do not allow us to infer whether loneliness directly causes depression and anxiety, as opposed to already depressed, anxious individuals being more prone to developing loneliness in times of adversity. Similarly, none of the reviewed findings can be used to tease apart whether changes in psychopathology during periods of mass social isolation are the chicken or the egg of the many biological manifestations. To fill knowledge gaps on mediating mechanisms for theoretical models, future research requires carefully designed and controlled longitudinal before-versus-after COVID-19 population investigations.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Neuroscience shows how interconnected we are – even in a time of isolation

Lisa Feldman Barrett
The Guardian
Originally posted 10 Feb 21

Here is an excerpt:

Being the caretakers of each other’s body budgets is challenging when so many of us feel lonely or are physically alone. But social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Humans have a special power to connect with and regulate each other in another way, even at a distance: with words. If you’ve ever received a text message from a loved one and felt a rush of warmth, or been criticised by your boss and felt like you’d been punched in the gut, you know what I’m talking about. Words are tools for regulating bodies.

In my research lab, we run experiments to demonstrate this power of words. Our participants lie still in a brain scanner and listen to evocative descriptions of different situations. One is about walking into your childhood home and being smothered in hugs and smiles. Another is about awakening to your buzzing alarm clock and finding a sweet note from your significant other. As they listen, we see increased activity in brain regions that control heart rate, breathing, metabolism and the immune system. Yes, the same brain regions that process language also help to run your body budget. Words have power over your biology – your brain wiring guarantees it.

Our participants also had increased activity in brain regions involved in vision and movement, even though they were lying still with their eyes closed. Their brains were changing the firing of their own neurons to simulate sight and motion in their mind’s eye. This same ability can build a sense of connection, from a few seconds of poor-quality mobile phone audio, or from a rectangle of pixels in the shape of a friend’s face. Your brain fills in the gaps – the sense data that you don’t receive through these media – and can ease your body budget deficit in the moment.

In the midst of social distancing, my Zoom friend and I rediscovered the body-budgeting benefits of older means of communication, such as letter writing. The handwriting of someone we care about can have an unexpected emotional impact. A piece of paper becomes a wave of love, a flood of gratitude, a belly-aching laugh.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Difference Ethical Leadership Can Make in a Pandemic

Caterina Bulgarlla
Originally posted May 2, 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Since the personal costs of social isolation also depend on the behavior of others, the growing clamors to reopen the economy create a twofold risk. On the one hand, a rushed reopening may lead to new contagion; on the other, it may blunt the progress that has already been made toward mitigation. Not only can more people get sick, but many others—especially, lower-risk groups like the young—may start reevaluating whether it makes sense to sacrifice themselves in the absence of a shared strategy toward controlling the spread.

Self-sacrifice becomes less of a hard choice when everybody does his/her part. In the presence of a genuinely shared effort, not only are the costs of isolation more fairly spread, but it’s easier to appreciate that one’s personal interest is aligned with everyone else’s. Furthermore, if people consistently cooperate and shelter-in-place, progress toward mitigation is more likely to unfold in a steady and linear fashion, potentially creating a positive-feedback loop for all to see.

Ultimately, whether people cooperate or not has more to do with how they weigh the costs and benefits of cooperation than the objective value of those costs and benefits. Uncertainty—such as the uncertainty of whether one’s personal sacrifices truly matter—may lead people to view cooperation as a more costly choice, but trust may increase its value. Similarly, if the choice to cooperate is framed in terms of what one can gain—such as in “stay home to avoid getting sick”—rather than in terms of how every contribution is critical for the common good, people may act more selfishly.

For example, some may start pitting the risk of getting sick against the risk of economic loss and choose to risk infection. In contrast, if people are forced to evaluate whether they bear responsibility for the life of others, they may feel compelled to cooperate. When it comes to these types of dilemmas, cooperation is less likely to manifest if the decisions to be made are framed in business terms rather than in ethical ones.

The info is here.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—A Perfect Storm?

Reger MA, Stanley IH, Joiner TE.
JAMA Psychiatry. 
Published online April 10, 2020.

Suicide rates have been rising in the US over the last 2 decades. The latest data available (2018) show the highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the US since 1941.1 It is within this context that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) struck the US. Concerning disease models have led to historic and unprecedented public health actions to curb the spread of the virus. Remarkable social distancing interventions have been implemented to fundamentally reduce human contact. While these steps are expected to reduce the rate of new infections, the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high. Actions could be taken to mitigate potential unintended consequences on suicide prevention efforts, which also represent a national public health priority.

COVID-19 Public Health Interventions and Suicide Risk

Secondary consequences of social distancing may increase the risk of suicide. It is important to consider changes in a variety of economic, psychosocial, and health-associated risk factors.

Economic Stress

There are fears that the combination of canceled public events, closed businesses, and shelter-in-place strategies will lead to a recession. Economic downturns are usually associated with higher suicide rates compared with periods of relative prosperity.2 Since the COVID-19 crisis, businesses have faced adversity and laying off employees. Schools have been closed for indeterminable periods, forcing some parents and guardians to take time off work. The stock market has experienced historic drops, resulting in significant changes in retirement funds. Existing research suggests that sustained economic stress could be associated with higher US suicide rates in the future.

Social Isolation

Leading theories of suicide emphasize the key role that social connections play in suicide prevention. Individuals experiencing suicidal ideation may lack connections to other people and often disconnect from others as suicide risk rises.3 Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are associated with social isolation and loneliness.3 Therefore, from a suicide prevention perspective, it is concerning that the most critical public health strategy for the COVID-19 crisis is social distancing. Furthermore, family and friends remain isolated from individuals who are hospitalized, even when their deaths are imminent. To the extent that these strategies increase social isolation and loneliness, they may increase suicide risk.

The info is here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students

Colleen Flaherty
Inside Higher Ed
Originally published March 6, 2018

Several studies suggest that graduate students are at greater risk for mental health issues than those in the general population. This is largely due to social isolation, the often abstract nature of the work and feelings of inadequacy -- not to mention the slim tenure-track job market. But a new study in Nature Biotechnology warns, in no uncertain terms, of a mental health “crisis” in graduate education.

“Our results show that graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population,” the study says, urging action on the part of institutions. “It is only with strong and validated interventions that academia will be able to provide help for those who are traveling through the bioscience workforce pipeline.”

The paper is based on a survey including clinically validated scales for anxiety and depression, deployed to students via email and social media. The survey’s 2,279 respondents were mostly Ph.D. candidates (90 percent), representing 26 countries and 234 institutions. Some 56 percent study humanities or social sciences, while 38 percent study the biological and physical sciences. Two percent are engineering students and 4 percent are enrolled in other fields.

Some 39 percent of respondents scored in the moderate-to-severe depression range, as compared to 6 percent of the general population measured previously with the same scale.

The article is here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness

Emma Seppala and Marissa King
Harvard Business Review
First published June 29, 2017

More and more people are feeling tired and lonely at work. In analyzing the General Social Survey of 2016, we found that, compared with roughly 20 years ago, people are twice as likely to report that they are always exhausted. Close to 50% of people say they are often or always exhausted due to work. This is a shockingly high statistic — and it’s a 32% increase from two decades ago. What’s more, there is a significant correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion: The more people are exhausted, the lonelier they feel.

This loneliness is not a result of social isolation, as you might think, but rather is due to the emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout. In researching the book The Happiness Track, we found that 50% of people — across professions, from the nonprofit sector to the medical field — are burned out. This isn’t just a problem for busy, overworked executives (though the high rates of loneliness and burnout among this group are well known). Our work suggests that the problem is pervasive across professions and up and down corporate hierarchies.

Loneliness, whether it results from social isolation or exhaustion, has serious consequences for individuals. John Cacioppo, a leading expert on loneliness and coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, emphasizes its tremendous impact on psychological and physical health and longevity. Research by Sarah Pressman, of the University of California, Irvine, corroborates his work and demonstrates that while obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, and smoking by 50%, loneliness reduces it by a whopping 70%. In fact, one study suggests that loneliness increases your chance of stroke or coronary heart disease — the leading cause of death in developed countries — by 30%. On the other hand, feelings of social connection can strengthen our immune system, lengthen our life, and lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Friday, May 12, 2017

US Suicide Rates Display Growing Geographic Disparity.

2017;317(16):1616. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.4076

As the overall US suicide rate increases, a CDC study showed that the trend toward higher rates in less populated parts of the country and lower rates in large urban areas has become more pronounced.

Using data from the National Vital Statistics System and the US Census Bureau, the researchers reported that from 1999 to 2015, the annual suicide rate increased by 14%, from 12.6 to 14.4 per 100, 000 US residents aged 10 years or older.


Higher suicide rates in less urban areas could be linked with limited access to mental health care, the opioid overdose epidemic, and social isolation, the investigators suggested. The 2007-2009 economic recession may have caused the sharp upswing, they added, because rural areas and small towns were hardest hit.

The article is here