loneliness makes our brains crave people


a hungry brain craves food. a lonely brain craves people. a new brain study?demonstrates?this. after being?isolated, it shows, people’s brains?perked up?at the sight of other people. the action was in the same brain region that revs up when a hungry person sees food. ?


“there’s a ton of research showing loneliness is associated with depression,” says livia tomova. she’s a cognitive neuroscientist, someone who studies how the brain produces mental activities. tomova works at the university of cambridge in england.?


but while scientists know?loneliness and depression are related, it’s hard to tell if one causes the other. “are they depressed because they’re lonely, or lonely because they’re depressed?” she asks. “one way to study that is [to look at] how the brain responds to periods of being alone.”


when she began this study, tomova was a scientist at the massachusetts institute of technology in cambridge. she and her colleagues?recruited?40 people. on one day, the participants had to fast — not eat anything at all — for 10 hours.?


on another day, the same people were placed in a room for 10 hours. they couldn’t see anyone. no friends, no family and no social media. they weren’t even allowed to?check their email.?


after both days, tomova and her colleagues put the people in?a fmri machine. it shows activity in the brain by tracking how much blood is flowing to each region.


at the end of each day, the participants showed high activity in a brain area called the midbrain. the scientists were interested in two small areas within it. one was the substantia nigra pars compacta. the other was the ventral tegmental area. both areas produce?dopamine. it’s a?chemical?messenger that is important in
craving and rewards.


the two areas activated when hungry participants saw pictures of tasty pizza or juicy hamburgers. after the volunteers had been isolated, those brain areas became active when they saw social activities they missed. it might be playing sports or chatting with friends.


the midbrain plays an important part in people’s motivation to seek food or friends. in fact, it responds to food and social signals even when people aren’t hungry or lonely.?


but hunger and loneliness increased the reactions and made people’s responses specific to the thing they were missing. and the more hunger or?isolation?the volunteers said they were experiencing, the stronger the activity in this part of the brain.




demonstrate?[?dem?nstre?t] v. 证明;展示;证明

isolate?[?a?s?le?t] v. 阻隔;孤立;别离

perk up?活泼起来;振奋精力

recruit?[r??kru?t] v. 征募;聘任 n. 招聘;新兵

dopamine?[?do?p?mi?n] n. 多巴胺

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