Neuroimaging Shows That Social Isolation Changes the Brain Structure

Kathleen Kinder
Kathleen Kinder

Updated · Jun 22, 2022

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Isolation can be defined as being at home for extended periods, with no access to community services or involvement and little or no communication between friends, family, or acquaintances. Social isolation can be described as the complete absence of social contact. It is the state of being cut off from normal social networks. This could be caused by factors like loss of mobility or unemployment, as well as health issues. Social isolation is the lack of social contact. It can lead to loneliness. This is being disconnected from normal social networks. It can mean being at home for long periods, not having access to community services, or communication with family members, friends, or acquaintances. There may also be little to no communication with family members, friends, or acquaintances.

The social-brain hypothesis states that this is because the brain was designed to support social interaction. Research has shown that belonging to a group can improve your health and increase your satisfaction with life. Unfortunately, many people are socially or physically isolated and lonely. We should expect that the human brain evolved for social interaction if it is true. The most recent study, published in neurology, has shown that social isolation is associated with changes in brain structure, cognition, and the mental process of learning knowledge. This increases dementia risk in older adults. Dementia refers to a decline in cognitive function, thinking, recalling and reasoning. It can affect a person’s daily activities and life. Dementia can cause people to lose control of their emotions and may alter their personalities.

There is a lot of evidence to support the social brain hypothesis. One study found that social interaction is associated with brain regions in about 7,000 individuals. It revealed that brain regions involved in various social interactions were strongly linked with networks that support cognition. This includes the default mode (which is active when a person is not focusing on outside world), salience (which helps a person to select what to pay attention to), subcortical (which involves in memory, emotion, motivation), and central executive (which enables a person to regulate emotions).

The study helps to gather the data on how social isolation affects grey material – the brain regions in outer layers of the brain that are made up of neurons. The brain’s majority of neuronal cell body can be found in the grey matter. The grey matter comprises brain regions that control muscle control and sensory perceptions such as sight, hearing, memory and emotions. It also includes areas involved in decision making and self-control. If a person is living alone, has less than one monthly social contact and participates in no more than two social activities per week, they are socially isolated.

Research using neuroimaging (MRI) data from 32,000 subjects showed that those who are socially isolated have lower cognitive ability such as their memory and reaction speed, and a lower quantity of grey matter throughout the body. These include the temporal, which processes sounds to encode memories, the brain’s frontal lobe, involved in planning and attention, and also the hippocampus. This is critical for learning and memory. This area is affected by dementia very early. It was also shown that there is a correlation in the volume of grey matter and certain genetic processes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Kathleen Kinder

Kathleen Kinder

With over four years of experience in the research industry, Kathleen is generally engrossed in market consulting projects, catering primarily to domains such as ICT, Health & Pharma, and packaging. She is highly proficient in managing both B2C and B2B projects, with an emphasis on consumer preference analysis, key executive interviews, etc. When Kathleen isn’t deconstructing market performance trajectories, she can be found hanging out with her pet cat ‘Sniffles’.