Social isolation triggers cravings similar to hunger, scientists say.
With the holiday season already peaking, it’s only natural that you miss the people you love. But there seems to be something more to that yearning.
According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology experts, we hunger for companionship just like we hunger for food. As Fortune remarks, the research was conducted in 2018 and 2019 – before the worldwide quarantine even happened.
The MIT researchers discovered that for many people, 10 hours without any social contact affects them with the same level of psychological intensity as 10 waking hours without food. Rebecca Saxe, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, stated:
“People who are forced to be isolated crave social interactions similarly to the way a hungry person craves food. Our finding fits the intuitive idea that positive social interactions are a basic human need, and acute loneliness is an aversive state that motivates people to repair what is lacking, similar to hunger.”
10 hours without food = 10 hours without any social interaction
Before pursuing the corelation between actual hunger and the craving for social contact, the MIT experts were intrigued by a study revealing that the function of a cluster of neurons in mice’s brains is linked to the need for social interaction. This research helped them gain more knowledge of the neurological basis for those emotions.
To examine the effects of the hunger for human contact, the researchers made a group of volunteers to go 10 hours without any social contact and then 10 hours without food. Afterward, the participants underwent MRI scans. During the scans, they were shown images of people happily interacting after the social break, and plates of food after the no-food challenge.
The conclusions were clear:
“Our results support the intuitive idea that acute isolation causes social craving, similar to the way fasting causes hunger.”
When it comes to loneliness, the experts were certain that previous experiences with such feelings make you less vulnerable. In other words, if you are used to being left for hours without any social contact, such an experiment wouldn’t affect you as much as it affects those who are usually surrounded by people. Professor Saxe explained:
“For people who reported that their lives were really full of satisfying social interactions, this intervention had a bigger effect on their brains and on their self-reports.”
While the study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people can now relate to its results. Although 2020 hasn’t been kind to many of us, at least we had quality time to learn how to appreciate the importance of real-life human contact.
What do you think of the corelation between social distance and hunger? How would you feel after 10 hours without seeing or chatting to your friends and family? Let us know in the comment section!