Loneliness is linked to poor physical and mental health, and is an even more accurate predictor of early death than obesity. To better understand who is at risk, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine conducted the first genome-wide association study for loneliness — as a life-long trait, not a temporary state. They discovered that risk for feeling lonely is partially due to genetics, but environment plays a bigger role. The study of more than 10,000 people, published September 15 by Neuropsychopharmacology, also found that genetic risk for loneliness is associated with neuroticism and depressive symptoms.
The research was led by Abraham Palmer, PhD, professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UC San Diego School of Medicine. In their paper, Palmer and team explain that just as physical pain alerts us to potential tissue damage and motivates us to take care of our physical bodies, loneliness — triggered by a discrepancy between an individual’s preferred and actual social relations — is part of a biological warning system that has evolved to alert us of threats or damage to our social bodies.