Loneliness and social anxiety are caused by different brain states

Behavioral interventions aimed at social anxiety need to be adapted to treat loneliness.

Despite similar symptoms, loneliness and social anxiety are caused by different brain states, according to a new study published in JNeurosci.

Loneliness can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health, but there are currently few behavioral interventions for loneliness as for other illnesses. Libertz et al. explored the basis of these two conditions, comparing how people with social anxiety and high and low loneliness behaved in social gambling. Participants played a computer game where you could make a safe bet and win a smaller amount of money or make a riskier bet on a larger amount. When they made a riskier bet, they watched a video in which a virtual person demonstrates approval or disapproval.

Loneliness Social anxiety Almond activity

The activity of the amygdala was greatly enhanced at the stage of deciding on the problem of social gambling, when participants chose a risky option with a human partner compared to a computer partner. Author: Lieberz et al., JNeurosci 2021

People with social anxiety were more likely to make a reliable bet to avoid social feedback from the video. But people with high loneliness did not show this social avoidance. Measuring participants’ brain activity during the fMRI task, the researchers found that people with social anxiety showed increased tonsil activation during the decision-making phase – a sign of increased anxiety – and decreased adjacent nucleus activation during the feedback phase – a sign of declining social decline. No pattern of activity has emerged in people with high loneliness, suggesting that loneliness is a unique condition that requires self-intervention.

Reference: Behavioral and Nervous Dissociation of Social Anxiety and Loneliness Jana Libertz, Simona G. Shamai-Tsoori, Nira Saporta, Alice Canterman, Jessica Horny, Timo Esser, Ekaterina Kuskova, Johannes Schultz, Rene Hurleman and Dirk, February 20, 20 JNeurosci.
DOI: 10.1523 / JNEUROSCI.2029-21.2022 Loneliness and social anxiety are caused by different brain states

Back to top button