Monday, December 28, 2009


Loneliness has long been associated with a variety of debilitating mental and physical diseases. Now, a new study reveals that it has the potential to spread as rapidly as the common cold throughout groups of friends, family, etc. A team of researchers from Harvard, The University of Chicago, and The University of California recently published these findings in, “Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network.”
Using data collected from the Framingham Heart and Offspring studies that began in 1948 and span over three generations of participants, researchers were better able understand the spread of loneliness via traditional social networks. The researchers explain that the results of their study indicate loneliness occurs in clusters, extends up to three degrees of separation, is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks, and spreads through a contagious process.
People who suffer from feelings of loneliness tend to associate and identify with other lonely people. When one lonely person conveys their outlook of isolation to another, they are influencing the other to reflect similar views on a third potentially lonely party. It's a vicious cycle--yet contrary to what being lonely implies, the lonely person is not isolated--rather their emotions are intimately connected to the emotions of others. By resigning themselves to a position of loneliness, they push themselves into the outer reaches of their social network and unknowingly slowly catalyze others they have shared their views with to follow suit.

Thumbnail Image: "Fence" by John Steven Fernandez on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons lisencing.
Main Image: "I'm goin' down" by Bombardier on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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