Is Being Lonely Making You Selfish?

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
Being alone and being lonely are two different things, and the latter is arguably more emotionally taxing than the first. But could your feelings of isolation be making you a little self-centered?
Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin journal makes the case that while loneliness does motivate us to find connections with other people, it also can heighten selfishness.
Not only that, researchers said, self-centeredness can also contribute to more loneliness, which makes some deal of sense — extreme self-involvement might cause you to push other people away. That finding was expected, the researchers said, but they weren't anticipating that loneliness would actually contribute to selfishness in a feedback loop.
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John Cacioppo, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory, led a team of researchers in studying 229 middle-aged participants over the course of 10 years, looking at their loneliness and self-centeredness over time. If someone's loneliness increased in a year, they found, that person tended to put themselves first way more often in the next year. Which, we'd like to argue, isn't a bad thing. It's human nature to take care of ourselves and put ourselves first if we feel lonely or isolated.
"Humans evolved to become such a powerful species, in large part due to mutual aid and protection and the changes in the brain that proved adaptive in social interactions," Cacioppo said in a statement. "When we don’t have mutual aid and protection, we are more likely to become focused on our own interests and welfare. That is, we become more self-centered."
As researchers noted, doing so might actually be a mode of self-preservation.
And on the other hand, Cacioppo said, "If you get more self-centered, you run the risk of staying locked in to feeling socially isolated."
The biggest takeaway? Loneliness is something that pushes us to action, but it's often dealt with as a condition. That being said, loneliness and isolation can also be hazardous for our health.
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