27 September 2016

Chronic feelings of loneliness might be in your DNA

A large analysis suggests that 14 to 27 percent of a lifelong tendency towards loneliness can be traced back to inherited traits.


People with a lifelong inclination towards loneliness can probably place at least some of the blame on their genes, a large analysis suggests.

Three basic questions

The finding stems from a study involving nearly 11,000 men and women aged 50 and older. All were participants in a US National Institute on Ageing study focused on issues related to health, retirement and ageing.

Honing in on lifelong loneliness (as opposed to momentary bouts of solitude), all participants were first asked three basic questions: how often do you feel you lack companionship; how often do you feel left out; and how often do you feel isolated from others?

The research team then examined the genetic background of each respondent.

Read: Loneliness may raise death risk for elderly

The researchers said they concluded that 14 percent to 27 percent of a lifelong tendency towards loneliness can be traced back to inherited traits.

"For two people with the same number of close friends and family, one might see their social structure as adequate, while the other doesn't," study author Abraham Palmer said in a University of California, San Diego (UCSD) news release.

Chronically neurotic and depressed

"And that's what we mean by 'genetic predisposition to loneliness', " added Palmer, a professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UCSD's School of Medicine.

Read: Loneliness may cause fitful sleep

The research team said it also observed that being lonely tends to go hand in hand with being chronically neurotic and with depression.

Still, the researchers noted that the findings suggest that chronic loneliness is driven more by one's environment than by nature because genes seem to account for only about one-quarter or less of feeling chronically lonely.

And, it remains to be seen whether researchers can actually pinpoint a specific genetic predictor of chronic loneliness, an effort that's now underway.

The study, which was funded in part by the US National Institutes of Health, was published recently in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Read more:

Symptoms of depression

Causes of depression

Treating depression

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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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