Social craving: Desire for connection is like hunger

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New research looked closely at our brains when we don’t have much human interaction. GETTY

(Dave Yasvinski/ —Absence may make the heart grow fonder but isolation just makes the brain hungry, according to a team of neuroscientists that say the human desire for social interaction rivals the cravings a starving person feels for food.

The study, conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that segregation from family and friends leads to increased neural activity in the same part of the brain that goes haywire when you park a pizza in front of someone who hasn’t eaten all day. The finding has taken on added importance in the age of isolation brought to us courtesy of COVID-19.

“Our finding fits the intuitive idea that positive social interactions are a basic human need, and acute loneliness is an aversive state that motivates people to repair what is lacking, similar to hunger,” said Rebecca Saxe, the study’s senior author and a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, according to Science Daily.

The team’s research was based on data from 2018 to 2019 — before the pandemic — and part of larger research into the effects of social stress on human behaviour. While previous studies have connected isolation to emotional distress, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. (…)

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