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Loneliness and Self-Centeredness Amplify Each Other in a Vicious Feedback Loop

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If you're feeling lonesome, 200,000 years of evolution would like to have a word with you. 

A University of Chicago psychological study, backed by the National Institute on Aging, concludes ten solid years of research into the relationship between loneliness and self-centeredness. The research supports an emerging evolutionary-biological theory, which suggests that the unpleasant feeling we call loneliness has long served a critical function in the evolution of the species.

According to the theory, evolution has shaped the human brain — on a neurological or chemical level — to tend toward specific thoughts and emotions in response to particular situations. When these emotions are negative, they serve as aversive signals that encourage us to change our behavior.

Loneliness is one such aversive signal, and it’s designed to motivate us to “get back out there” — to take deliberate action toward maintaining, repairing, or replacing our social relationships. From a psychological perspective, loneliness can be considered the emotional counterpart of physical pain. Just as pain warns of tissue damage, loneliness warns of social relationship damage.

Acting upon loneliness is important for the survival of the species, according to psychologist John Cacioppo, co-author of the new paper and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago.



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