Loneliness is a Heritable Trait

A study from University of California San Diego School of Medicine confirms loneliness as a life-long trait, not a temporary state. The first genome-wide association study says loneliness is an accurate predictor of early death than obesity, linking it to poor physical and mental health, as well as genetic, though environment plays a bigger role.

According to the research which was partly funded by National Institutes of Health and published by Neuropsychopharmacology: genetic risk for loneliness is associated with neuroticism and depressive symptoms.

Loneliness does the exact job as physical pain, which alerts and motivates us to take care of our bodies. Loneliness exists as a biological warning system that alerts us of threats to our social bodies – triggered by lack of answer to individual’s preferred social relations.

Abraham Palmer, PhD, professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UC San Diego School of Medicine, who is also the led researcher, said:

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. 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.

Earlier small size studies estimated that 37 to 55 percent of loneliness is determined by genetics: tied to specific genes such as dopamine and serotonin. In the new study, Palmer and team examined genetic and health data collected from 10,760 people aged 50 years and older (information covers gender, age and marital status) – provided by Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study of health, retirement and aging sponsored by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.

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Palmer and team found that loneliness tends to be co-inherited with neuroticism (long-term negative emotional state) and a scale of depressive symptoms. Other evidence associates heritable loneliness with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.


Abraham A Palmer, Jianjun Gao, University of Chicago and UC San Diego; Lea K. Davis, Vanderbilt University; Sandra Sanchez-Roige, Lide Han, John T Cacioppo. Genome-Wide Association Study of Loneliness Demonstrates a Role for Common Variation - published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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