CHICAGO, IL – Loneliness can take a harsh toll on a person’s mental stability, but now a recent long-term study finds that it can also cause a person to become more self-centered, which may lead to social isolation altogether.
Researchers from the University of Chicago examined data over an 11-year period from a racially-diverse group of 229 men and women between the ages of 50 and 68 at the start of the study. Participants had taken part in the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study, which analyzes how age, loneliness, social isolation, and other aspects of emotional health are connected.
As feelings of loneliness rises, self-centeredness rises too, the researchers found, noting a surprising loop effect that also showed loneliness increased when a person became more self-absorbed, too.
Lead researcher John Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the university, says that being more self-centered can lead to social effects and bring you down a more secluded path.
“If you get more self-centered, you run the risk of staying locked into feeling socially isolated,” he explains in a news release.
Cacioppo says that when people lack social networks or feel shunned by others, they begin to develop survival tactics more protective of their own needs and outcomes. Becoming self-centered, he explains, may prove necessary to a person initially under this premise, but the longterm mental wear-and-tear that loneliness brings about is detrimental to one’s health and well-being.
“This evolutionarily adaptive response may have helped people survive in ancient times, but in contemporary society may well make it harder for people to get out of feelings of loneliness,” he says.
Previous research has found that loneliness can cause poorer physical health in some and even lead to earlier death.
The full research article was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.