Research by Tomova, Livia; Wang,Kimberly; Thompson, Todd; Matthews, Gillian; Takahashi, Atsushi; Tye, Kay; & Saxe, Rebecca (2020). Acute social isolation evokes midbrain craving responses similar to hunger. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.25.006643
Written by Robin N. Fatovic M.S.
During the pandemic, have you learned to value alone time, or just crave socialization?
Neurocognitive psychology researchers studied the effects of social isolation on 40 participants’ brains. First, participants completed questionnaires to determine how strong their cravings for food and socialization were. They fasted from food for 10 hours, then under went fMRI brain imaging. Next, they socially isolated for 10 hours and again had a brain scan. After deprivation, participants viewed images related and unrelated to food and socialization.
Results? When fasting, participants looked at food cues. When isolated, participants viewed more social cues. Both brains activated in several areas and in one of the same midbrain areas known to be responsible for cravings. This shows that the brain responds to states of deprivation, such as hunger or loneliness. Stronger self-reported cravings were also related to more brain activity.
It is normal to crave intimacy and socializing when feeling lonely, especially after the COVID-19 quarantine. We need socialization, just as we need food to function. When you feel isolated or see others isolated, seek and give social support. If necessary, do it virtually—by mail, phone, text, sharing photos, or by video-chat.