A study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine finds that loneliness is an inheritable trait. They found that because of the genes, loneliness is a life-long trait, not merely a temporary state.
For their study published in Sept. 15 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, they studied the genomes of more than 10,760 individuals in the US aged 50 years and older. They found that the environment plays a bigger role in loneliness but genetics also partially influences it.
Overall, the trait is 14 to 27 percent genetic. Previous studies conducted on Europeans stated that it was around 37 to 55 percent.
The genetic risk for loneliness, which is a more accurate predictor of premature death than obesity, has been linked to poor physical and mental health. It is also associated with depressive symptoms and neuroticism.
Everyone perceives the feeling differently. The study states that it is triggered by a discrepancy between a person’s proffered and actual social relations. Apparently, it is part of a biological warning system that warns us of threats and any physical injury to our bodies.
“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,” says lead researcher Abraham Palmer, a professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “And that’s what we mean by ‘genetic predisposition to loneliness’ — we want to know why, genetically speaking, one person is more likely than another to feel lonely, even in the same situation.”
Other studies have investigated the same subject but their study samples were limited. In the new study, the participants have to answer three questions that measure loneliness: How often do you feel that you lack companionship? How often do you feel left out? and How often do you feel isolated from others?
The next step for the research team is looking for the specific genetic variation or a genetic predictor that can shed light into the processes that influence loneliness at a molecular level.