Introducing: John Cacioppo

[This post is the first in a series that will introduce you to some of the speakers who will be giving presentations at the Brain Development and Learning Conference. Early bird registration closes Feb. 15. Use the drop down menu beneath the Conference tab to go directly to the website or click the next links to view the brochure or download a registration form.]

John Cacioppo’s topic: Neuroscience behind thriving socially

Blurb from BDL2013 conference website

Blurb from BDL2013 conference website

“Loneliness isn’t at all what people thought it was, and it’s a lot more important than people thought it was.”

This is the way John Cacioppo, “a pioneer in the new science of loneliness,'” sums up his team’s findings about the impact of loneliness on everything from people’s state of mind to their life span. Interestingly, it’s not the actual number of social contacts that determines whether an individual will suffer from adverse affects, but whether or not one feels lonely.

 “Some people are socially isolated and they’re not lonely; … [whereas], some people are lonely even if they have a lot of social contacts.”

Loneliness seems to compound itself by negatively affecting the way people judge others and by making social interaction feel less pleasurable. As a person’s social network becomes weaker, so may his/her appetite for food, exercise, and life in general. Cacioppo has found that loneliness has an impact on both brain and body by:

  • contributing to increased stress, promoting inflammation,
  • making one more susceptible to viruses,
  • keeping the body in a constant state of ‘threat alert’, and
  • reducing sleep and relaxation

There are observable and measurable neuro-chemical and structural changes which make the brains of socially isolated people different. Unfortunately, support offered by caring friends doesn’t have much impact on a lonely person’s sense of isolation, especially if he/she is feeling watched over. However, interventions that foster a shift in the individual’s perceptions of social situations can have lasting positive affects.

“As for preventing loneliness, Cacioppo says it helps to know where your own thermostat is set and strive to stay in your comfort zone. … The degree of social connection that can improve our health and our happiness … is both as simple and as difficult as being open and available to others.”

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Source article: Psychologist John Cacioppo explains why loneliness is bad for your health  from Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology News and Events (Feb. 2011) found at http://goo.gl/9B6Fn

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