Feeling lonely? Genes might be at fault
For one person, the idea of spending a cold winter's night alone seems great -- a perfect time to catch up on novels, watch cheesy movies, and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. For another, the prospect is less comforting -- feelings of depression, anger, isolation set in as the hours go by.
Research suggests that the degree of loneliness that any two people feel in a particular situation may vary widely, partly because of genetics. In fact, loneliness is half inherited, half environmental, says John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.
In his recent book "Loneliness," with co-author William Patrick, Cacioppo defines loneliness in terms of the need for social connection and notes that a person can feel lonely even in a large crowd. At any given time, about 60 million people in the U.S. feel so isolated that it's a major source of unhappiness, the book says.
"Loneliness we see to be much more like hunger, thirst and pain than a personality factor per se," Cacioppo told CNN. "It's something everybody has, everybody has the capacity to feel that way, and it serves to call attention to a real biological need."
Using data from more than 8,000 people in twin studies and sibling studies, in collaboration with the Netherlands Twin Register, Cacioppo and colleagues found strong evidence that genetics accounts for about half of the differences in loneliness among people in the study.
"It's really having one good relationship is all that it takes," Cacioppo said. "Spending all your time online getting 4,000 friends on Facebook is not useful. The number is not where connection occurs."
You have to love these sort of heritability studies. They results are always interesting and often spark more questions than they answer. This latest study just continues the trend that seems to show that genes are even more important than we gave them credit for. If the nature vs nurture debate were still going on, nature would have nurture in a headlock and taunting it to scream uncle. Whereas people would often say that genes and environment split things 50-50, the latest numbers give 50% to genes, 25% to environment and then another 25% to interactions and random crap. Of course, this will vary greatly based on whatever you're measuring but it seems to be holding true across a variety of variables.
You really have to wonder what's going to happen as we unlock more of the human genome. As genes become more important, how long will it be before society starts making decisions based on genetics? If some of you felt uncomfortable with the whole idea of The Bell Curve, just wait.