Social neuroscientist John John Cacioppo suggests loneliness is contagious and increases the chance of early death by 20%. The good news? It can be treated
Interesting piece on the mechanism of contagion for loneliness – if a person becomes lonely and withdraws from their social connections, those social connections also lose one of their nodes, thereby increasing their degree of loneliness incrementally.
In terms of “treatment of loneliness”, social engagement alone is insufficient because it confuses loneliness with being alone. Learning social skills is also ill-conceived because Cacioppo argues that experiencing loneliness decreases social skills rather than the other way around. People need reciprocity in communication, and lonely people need to relearn how to communicate and people read other people’s voices, eyes and posture.
I think kindness is a great way to start to deal with loneliness. But the answer is not just be happy and treat everyone well, because chronically lonely people may need more than that. Actually I think loneliness is a bit like pain, hunger and thirst, and we don’t have opposites for them either, except, pain-free, or not hungry, not thirsty. Loneliness is the same way. It protects our social body. Chronic loneliness is harmful; but short-term loneliness can be positive and necessary because it highlights the need for social connections.