Loneliness Is Bad for the Brain

In a recent study, researchers have found that mice that are separated from their community and put into solitary confinement showed signs of brain damage.

The study showed that after only one month of separation, the nerve cells in certain parts of their brains began to shrink. Additional changes followed soon after. Unfortunately, there is no way to see whether these same effects happen in brains of isolated humans. If this is true, it changes the way we think about people that spend a lot of time alone. This is even more important for the people that are currently locked away in solitary confinement in various U.S. prisons, as well as for institutionalized elderly people.

Other brain studies show that isolating members of a social species has damaging effects on the nervous system. It also changes the basic architecture of the brain.

During studies scientists put large mice colonies into large enclosures filled with toys, mazes and various different equipment that engages them and stimulates brain activity. At a certain age some of the mice are taken from the colonies and put into simple cages. After a month of solitude, the nerve cells of the solitary mice shrunk by 20 percent. And that is not all. Every additional month of separation shrunk the mice brains for another 20 percent.

What is still not known is how all of this affects mice behavior. People that spend a lot of time alone suffer from long bouts of depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Peoples power of reasoning, remembering and navigation is also highly diminished.

There are currently ongoing studies that are trying to determine how neuron shrinkage affects cognitive ability in mice. Returning isolated mice to their communities is also being planned. This is all aimed at determining how long an individual can be left alone begore irreversible damage is done.


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