Link Between Loneliness and Genetics Found in New Study

The feeling of loneliness is caused in part by a person's genes | Photo by Alex on Unsplash

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge have found a connection between a person's predisposition to loneliness and their genetic composition.

The study, conducted with 487,647 participants of the U.K. Biobank who filled out questionnaires, attempted to gauge their perceived level of loneliness, how often they interacted with other people and how good those interactions were, The Telegraph reports.

The researchers referenced the questionnaires and the genetic makeups of the individuals who participated in the study and found that there are similarities among those people who thought of themselves as being lonely.

Researchers found that the individuals who identified as being lonely featured "different spellings" of their DNA at 15 genetic locations.

Those genetic regions are not just linked to loneliness, however.

The researchers also noted that the same genetic locations that are connected to loneliness are similarly linked to a part of the brain responsible for emotional self-control. The very same regions are also noticeable among individuals who are overweight.

From the findings obtained in the study, University of Cambridge senior scientist Dr. John Perry said that it's now possible for them "to use genetics to identify a causal association between loneliness and obesity."

Perry added, "We often think that loneliness is driven purely by our surrounding environment and life experiences, but this study demonstrates that genes can also play a role."

He also notes that if obesity could be handled at the population level, then loneliness could similarly be held in check.

Back in 2016, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that loneliness is also a "modestly heritable trait."

Abraham Palmer, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at the university, led the study which found that "the tendency to feel lonely over a lifetime" is the particular type of loneliness which is "modestly heritable."

Upon studying the genetic and health information of 10,760 individuals aged 50 years and older, the study found that loneliness could be inherited by 14 to 27 percent of people.

The study also suggests that loneliness is something that can be inherited together with neuroticism and a variety of depressive symptoms.

Palmer and his fellow researchers also determined that loneliness is "part of a biological warning system" designed to inform people of instances during which their social selves are being threatened or even damaged.

More news about studies linking loneliness to genetics should be made available in the future.

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