Loneliness and Health: Potential Mechanisms

  title={Loneliness and Health: Potential Mechanisms},
  author={John T. Cacioppo and Louise C. Hawkley and L. Elizabeth Crawford and John M. Ernst and Mary H. Burleson and R B Kowalewski and William B. Malarkey and Eve van Cauter and Gary G. Berntson},
  journal={Psychosomatic Medicine},
Objective Two studies using cross-sectional designs explored four possible mechanisms by which loneliness may have deleterious effects on health: health behaviors, cardiovascular activation, cortisol levels, and sleep. Methods In Study 1, we assessed autonomic activity, salivary cortisol levels, sleep quality, and health behaviors in 89 undergraduate students selected based on pretests to be among the top or bottom quintile in feelings of loneliness. In Study 2, we assessed blood pressure… 
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The results suggest that the effects of psychological stressors on cardiovascular and cellular immune response are governed by coordinated regulatory mechanism(s) and that going beyond the simple notion of heart rate reactivity to examine neural substrates may shed light on the interrelationships among and the regulatory mechanisms for the autonomic, endocrine, and immune responses to stressors.
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Recommendations and directions for future research include the importance of conceptualizing social support as a multidimensional construct, examination of potential mechanisms across levels of analyses, and attention to the physiological process of interest.
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Two studies provide methodological refinement in the measurement of loneliness, demonstrating that although loneliness is correlated with measures of negative affect, social risk taking, and affiliative tendencies, it is nonetheless a distinct psychological experience.