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  • One is the loneliest number.

  • Hey everyone, Crystal here for DNews.

  • I don't care how much Netflix and ice cream you consume,

  • being alone for long periods of time just sucks!

  • It makes us sad, eats away at our self-esteem and our immune system, makes us more susceptible to chronic diseases, and it might even shorten our lifespan.

  • But could loneliness actually be a good thing?

  • Loneliness is the emotional state that arises from perceived isolation.

  • Like hunger, thirst, and pain, loneliness is an "aversive cue," a negative feeling that we want to move away from.

  • Think of it as an evolutionary mechanism that says, "Hey, you're in danger and your friends could help you."

  • Humans evolved to be social animals; groups provide protection and shared resources that help us survive.

  • When it comes to gathering food, building shelters, and defending themselves, communities of humans have a much better chance of survival than individuals do.

  • And so, scientists say, we evolved a "need to belong."

  • In fact, loneliness may have been so important for survival that we evolved a unique set of neurons in our brains dedicated to it.

  • In a paper recently published in the journal, Cell, neuroscientists at MIT identified a region of the mouse brain that is uniquely responsive to isolation.

  • The researchers used a technique called optogenetics, in which light is used to activate or inhibit selected groups of neurons in a modified rodent brain,

  • to manipulate a cluster of dopamine-sensitive neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus, which is a region of the mouse's brain that's been associated with depression.

  • For now, we'll call this special set of cells "loneliness neurons."

  • In this study, researchers introduced a lonely experimental mouse to a new mouse friend, and observed a significant increase in activity of the "loneliness neurons."

  • Then, they gave the mouse a choice between spending time alone or with another mouse, and studied how optogenetic stimulation of the "loneliness neurons" influenced the mouse's choice.

  • Activation of those neurons caused the mouse to spend significantly more time with a mousy companion, indicating that when those neurons fire, mice seek out social interaction.

  • But was the mouse's choice motivated by positive reward or a negative experience?

  • To determine this, scientists let mice roam around in a box that contained two areas.

  • When the mouse spent time in one area, its "loneliness neurons" were stimulated, and while in the other area, they were not.

  • Interestingly, the mice avoided the stimulating area, indicating that the activation didn't make them feel very good.

  • This observation led researchers to suggest that activity in this brain region might be connected to a loneliness-like state that motivates mice to seek out social contact to feel better.

  • These findings reinforce the evolutionary view that loneliness is actually a good thing.

  • Because it encourages us to seek social contact and, in turn, keeps us healthier and safer.

  • Even just in this study, there's so much more to the story, and if the research is extrapolated to humans,

  • it could not only help to explain motivations behind our own feelings and behavior, but also help us study what happens when those things go awry.

  • But before we all get too excited, the neuroscientist in me must extend a note of caution:

  • It's important to remember that human brains and mouse brains are similar in some ways, but not the same.

  • And mice do not display identical social behaviors to humans.

  • But for now, since we can't manipulate human brains the way we do with mice, we have to make do with what we learn from rodents,

  • and hope that somebody gave those lonely mice a hug and some tiny ice cream,

  • and told them that they're terrific and it's going to be okay,

  • and somebody will love you for who you are, and you will never be lonely again

  • Sorry.

  • If I haven't managed to convince you to stop staring at this screen and seek some social contact,

  • check out this video by Laci on how loneliness can kill you.

  • More people are living alone now, people are working longer and longer hours, they're working remotely, they're traveling far and wide for jobs...

  • People are using social media more to connect, and folks argue back and forth, is it good, is it bad,

  • is it bringing us together, tearing us apart... and everyone has different experience. Personally, I found it's good and bad.

  • What about you? How do you deal with loneliness? Subscribe to DNews and let us know in the comments down below. See you next time!

One is the loneliest number.

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Why Being Lonely Is Crucial For Survival

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    Vivi Lee posted on 2016/06/23
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