Why Do People Feel Lonely?
Loneliness is a feeling a lot of people have experienced atleast once in their life, while some spent their lives like that. Ever wondered how science explains loneliness?
The origins of loneliness, like all complex forms of social behavior, are complex. They appear to include a combination of genetic factors, attachment style (different ways of behaving in a relationship) and a lack of opportunity for early social experiences with peers. In a study designed to examine the possible role of genetic factors in loneliness, McGuire and Clifford (2000) conducted a behavioral genetic investigation of loneliness among children aged 9–14. The participants included pairs of biological siblings, pairs of unrelated siblings raised in adoptive homes, and pairs of identical and fraternal twins. The data consistently indicated that loneliness is based in part on inherited factors. For example, identical twins are more similar in loneliness than are fraternal twins, indicating that greater genetic similarity is associated with greater similarity with respect to loneliness. But loneliness was also found to be influenced by environmental conditions, as indicated by the fact that unrelated siblings raised in adoptive homes are more similar in loneliness than random pairs of children. As the investigators point out, the fact that there is a genetic component to loneliness does not explain just how it operates. For example, the relevant genes could affect feelings of depression or hostility; if so, differences in loneliness could be the result of rejection based on differences in interpersonal behavior. In other words, there is no “gene” for loneliness; rather, a combination of genetic and social behavioral factors may, quite literally, drive other people away!
Another possible source of loneliness involves attachment style. According to Sherman & Thelen (1996), both fearful-avoidant or dismissive styles involve patterns in which individuals fear intimacy and tend to avoid establishing relationships. Such people do not have trust in other people to risk being close to them. In general, insecure attachment is associated with social anxiety and loneliness.
A third factor that is correlated with loneliness is failure to develop social skills, and this can occur for a variety of reasons. In part, children learn interpersonal skills by interacting with peers. As a result, children who have attended preschool or otherwise had the opportunity to engage in play-related interactions with multiple peers are liked better in elementary school than those lacking such experiences. Without appropriate social skills, a child may engage in self-destructive behaviors such as avoidance of others, verbal aggression such as teasing, or physical aggression. As a result of such actions, they may be rejected as a playmate, and the seeds for loneliness can be planted.
Without some form of intervention to improve social skills, interpersonal difficulties typically continue throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood—they do not simply “go away” with the passage of time. To reduce loneliness, active steps are often needed, and several of these have been identified by social psychologists. Whatever its causes, loneliness and the social isolation it involves is truly an important source of social adversity.