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Surprising Science

Feeling Lonely?

The human condition of “loneliness” is contagious and can spread among groups of people in the same manner as the common cold, according to new research.

The human condition of “loneliness” is contagious and can spread among groups of people in the same manner as the common cold, according to new research. Scholars from the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego and Harvard used longitudinal data from a large study that has been following health conditions for more than 60 years. They found that lonely people pass their loneliness onto others and that gradually over time a group of lonely, disconnected types spread apart onto the fringes of social engagement. “We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,” said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left.”


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