Are We Lonely When We’re Alone?
I come from a family of introverts. That means that I know that just because one is introverted doesn’t necessarily mean that they are shy or lonely. It does, however, mean that many members of my family like to spend time alone – something that I understand very well. I like to read articles on the topic of loneliness because I often wonder if being alone means that we are lonely, even if we don’t know it. I found an interesting article recently Livescience.com written by one of the website’s contributors, Katharine Gammon. She reported on one John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago social psychologist who studies the biological effects of loneliness. I thought this article was well written, succinct, and informative.
Overall, Cacioppo has correlated loneliness with higher blood pressure, body inflammation, and problems regarding learning and memory. He specifically studied how loneliness affects the immune system: Cacioppo and his team studied the kinds of genes in lonely people and how they fluctuated over time. It became apparent that the genes of lonely people became inflamed over time, meaning that a lonely person’s body has let its defenses down to viral threats.
This means that our immune systems, when lonely, have to make a decision between fighting those viral threats and fighting bacterial threats. Lonely people see the world as a negative place – threatening them – therefore causing their bodies to protect against bacterial threats. If a lonely person’s body is mostly focusing on bacterial threats, that means that their body is essentially ignoring the viral threats, which can be serious illnesses such as different cancers.
The rest of the article is extremely interesting and I suggest you read it, because it discusses more biological effects of being lonely. I was skeptical at the beginning because the term “loneliness” itself was not explicitly discussed, but it was at the end – which actually made the article more interesting because, while reading it, I was forming my own definition of what loneliness is. What do you define loneliness as? What do you think of the rest of the article? Are people really lonely if they spend a lot of time alone?