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Ten-year study finds loneliness and self-centredness appear to be mutually reinforcing

25 October 2017

We usually think of loneliness as a condition with no redeeming features. Certainly, chronic loneliness is linked to poorer physical and psychological health, as well as unfavourable effects on personality.

But an evolutionary model of loneliness, pioneered by John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago, US, proposes that it has an adaptive function, in that it:

  1. makes people want to do something about absent or unsatisfactory social relationships
  2. encourages people to focus on their own interests and welfare

The second proposed motivational force is the focus of a new study, led John Cacioppo, and published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The researchers predicted that feelings of loneliness would make people more self-centred – and this is exactly what they found.

Cacioppo and his colleagues analysed data on 229 people living in Cook County, Illinois, who came into the University of Chicago’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory for evaluation one day a year, for ten years.

When the first data was collected, in 2002/3, the participants were aged 50-68, and came from the three largest racial/ethnic groups in the region: non-Hispanic White Americans, Black and African Americans and Hispanic Americans.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.


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