The lonelier you are, the more disconnected your self-image

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Credit: Unsplash

Before going in an fMRI scanner, participants were asked to name and rank five people whom they are closest to and five acquaintances. During the scan, participants were asked to make trait judgements about themselves, the people they are closest to and the acquaintances that they had just named, and five celebrities.

The results showed how the brain seemed to cluster representations of people into three different cliques: 1) oneself, 2) one’s own social network, and 3) well-known people, like celebrities. The closer participants felt to someone, the more similarly their brain represented them throughout the social brain, including in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), the region associated with the concept of self.

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In other words, the lonelier people are, the less similar their brain looks when they think about themselves and others.

[Researcher Megan] Meyer added, “It’s almost as if you have a specific constellation of neural activity that is activated when you think about yourself. And when you think about your friends, much of the same constellation is recruited. If you are lonely though, you activate a fairly, different constellation when you think about others than when you think about yourself. It’s as though your brain’s representation of yourself is more disconnected from other people, which is consistent with how lonely people say they feel.”

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