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    Social Isolation Provokes Brain Activity Similar to That Seen During Hunger Cravings



    Summary: Activity in the substantia nigra is similar following a day of social isolation as it is following a day of starvation.

    Source: MIT.

    Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, many people have only seen their close friends and loved ones on video calls, if at all. A new study from MIT finds that the desire to meet our close ones we feel during this kind of social isolation shares a neural basis with the food cravings we feel when hungry.

    The instinctive idea that positive social interactions are a basic human need, and acute loneliness is an unpleasant state that motivates people to repair what is lacking.

    The research team collected the data for this study in 2018 and 2019, way before the coronavirus pandemic began and resulting lockdowns. Their new findings, described in this article, are part of a larger research program focusing on how social stress affects people’s behavior and motivation.

    Each of the 40 participants go through 10 hours of fasting, on a different day. After the 10-hour period of isolation or fasting, the participants were scanned while they go look at images of food, images of other people having fun together, and neutral images such as flowers. The researchers focused on a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, a tiny structure located in the midbrain, in previous studies it has been associated with hunger cravings and drug cravings.

    The researchers observed that after one day of total isolation, the sight of other people having fun together initiates the same brain region that lights up when someone who hasn’t eaten throughout the day sees a picture of a plate of cheesy pasta.

    Now that the researchers have established that they can perceive the effects of social isolation on brain activity, they also hope to study whether the brain responses that they saw in this study could be used to predict how the same participants responded to being in isolation during the strict lockdowns imposed during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Published: MIT.

    Contact: Anne Trafton – MIT.

    Details: Image source Unsplash


    Hi, I’m Aarti, My Psychoanalytical approach towards my clients is to empower them to better their lives through improving their relationship with themselves. I believe shame and guilt is a common barrier to change. I aim to guide my clients through re authoring their narratives where shame, guilt, and other problems have less power and take up less space.

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