This new study from the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia suggests that loneliness can have quite an impact on the brain. The study is based on the effects of social isolation on mice. The mice were raised together where they could play with each other and form social ties. Then they were separated from each other for months on end. The results were quite interesting.

File:Coronal section of a mouse brain stained with Hematoxylin & LFB.jpg

Cross Section of Mouse Brain

After about a month of isolation, the mice developed more “spines” on their dendrites. This is peculiar because this development would usually happen as a response to a positive stimulus. The researchers theorize that the brain is trying to save itself from the loneliness. But this effort is not long lived. After three months of isolation, the brain returns to baseline levels of neural activity. The brain also has reduced amounts of a protein called BDNF, responsible for neural growth. They also found increased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. Lonely mice also had more broken DNA than their socialite counterparts.

Although it is not known how the results of this study can relate to the brains of humans it may shed some light into the lesser known effects of loneliness on the brain. It also brings into question the effect incarceration could have on a person long term and whether or not it could be more harmful than rehabilitating. What do you think about this study? What could the results of a similar test on humans yield?

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