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Loneliness alters your brain's social network

June 15, 2020

Social media sites aren't the only things that keep track of your social network -- your brain does, too. But loneliness alters how the brain represents relationships, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

A brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) maintains a structured map of a person's social circles, based on closeness. People that struggle with loneliness often perceive a gap between themselves and others. This gap is reflected by the activity patterns of the mPFC.

Courtney and Meyer used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine participants' brain activity while they thought about the self, close friends, acquaintances, and celebrities. Thinking about someone from each category corresponded to a different activity pattern in the mPFC: one for the self, one for the social network (both friends and acquaintances), and one for celebrities. The closer the relationship, the more the pattern resembled the pattern seen when thinking about the self.

These brain patterns differed for lonelier individuals. Activity related to thinking about the self was more different from activity related to thinking about others, while the activity from thinking about others was more similar across social categories. In other words, lonelier people have a "lonelier" neural representation of their relationships.
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Manuscript title: Self-Other Representation in the Social Brain Reflects Social Connection

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About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

Society for Neuroscience

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