By Matt Herrington – Collegiate Staff
Students and members of the community alike flooded the Fountain Street Church Wednesday evening to hear a Diversity Lecture Series talk by John Cacioppo, co-founder of the field of Social Neuroscience.
In his speech, Cacioppo explored the topics of loneliness and brain health. He peered into the causes and effects of these phenomena, as well as the implications that loneliness has on one’s physical and mental well-being.
Cacioppo provided a unique outlook on the topics of the lecture, as his research has allowed him to analyze these social factors from a deeper scientific perspective.
Any doubt that feelings of loneliness are no more than a subjective feeling was quickly dispelled early in the lecture, as Cacioppo presented the results of multiple scientific experiments conducted that measured the brainwaves and behavior of their participants.
Cacioppo also explained the truths of loneliness, such as the subjective nature of it, and how it is perceived by each individual differently.
In one experiment, Cacioppo observed the brainwaves of both lonely and non-lonely people, scoring each of them in terms of loneliness, social support, shyness, social skills, anger, anxiety, self-esteem, fear of negative evaluation, optimism, positive mood and negative mood. The results showed lonelier people scoring worse in every single aspect.
However, to further the experiment, each participant was then hypnotized. Those who were lonelier were brought to believe they weren’t lonely, and vice versa. Following this, the experiment was conducted again, with all of the results of each member being flipped as well.
The results of this example illustrate other driving points about loneliness. Not only is it scientifically observable and is shown to have a direct correlation with one’s mental health, but it is also subjective to each person’s perception of loneliness. It is when someone feels lonely that there is a change in behavior.
“When we feel isolated around others, our personality changes,” Cacioppo said.
This works to explain that people only experience the effects of loneliness when they personally feel it.
“For a long time, social factors were rejected by biology. They were thought to be too complicated to understand,” Cacioppo said. “Now what we’re seeing with these models is that they’re not too complicated to understand, and we’re getting very clear experimental evidence that loneliness is possible.”
Evidence has also arisen which explains that when someone is chronically lonely, there are significant physical changes to the brain as well. There are lower levels of nerve growth, a higher number of cell death during strokes, higher rates of dementia, and consistent heavier use of stress hormones.
Once the prevalence and existence of loneliness were established, the topic of social media was brought up. It was explained that social media is a tool, and its effect on the user is dependent on how it is utilized. If used with the intention of staying in contact with friends and seeing them again in real life, social media can be an excellent tool for socialization and doesn’t make the user lonelier. However, Cacioppo continued to explain that if one should use social media as their only outlet for social interaction, that will, in turn, make them lonelier, and the negative symptoms mentioned before will become more prevalent. There is a human aspect missing when communicating through technology that cannot be emulated, he explained.
Cacioppo also went on to explain the relationship between loneliness and humanity. He described how it is only possible to feel lonely if one first cares about the connections they don’t have.
“It is because others matter, because we have those connections – that’s what gives us our humanity,” Cacioppo said.
Following the lecture, the room was opened to a question-and-answer session in which community members were able to further inquire about the points made in the speech, as well as gain insight into what inspired Cacioppo to pursue this career path.
The lecture was very well received, with many lessons and insights given. The information discussed social media’s effect resonated with many members of the audience, as they found interest in how technology could pose a dangerous substitute for regular social interaction.
“It’s incredible to learn how loneliness is slowly chronically killing you,” said Tim Cusack, one member of the audience.
Another audience member was moved by Cacioppo’s talk, as well.
“I really found that whole speech amazing,” Nashon Cook said. “Specifically though, the way he communicated the effects loneliness has on us was beautiful.”