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Health scare of the week: The loneliness contagion

Psychologists at the University of Chicago have found that loneliness is as infectious as a physical virus, spreading through a process called emotional contagion.

Loneliness, like the flu, is contagious. In a unsettling study, psychologists at the University of Chicago found that loneliness is as infectious as a physical virus, spreading through a process called emotional contagion, in which people are strongly influenced by other people’s moods. “Loneliness can be transmitted,” lead author John Cacioppo tells The Washington Post. “It can be transmitted across people—even people you don’t have direct contact with.” In a long-term study of nearly 5,000 people, researchers found that your odds of feeling lonely are strongly influenced by your contact with lonely people. Having a lonely friend makes you 40 percent to 65 percent more likely to feel lonely; having a lonely friend of a friend increases your chances by 25 percent on average. The effect is stronger for women than for men and more powerful through friends than through spouses and siblings. Stanley Wasserman, who studies social networks at Indiana University, said the study proves that no man—not even a lonely one—is an island. “We now know that the people you surround yourself with can have a tremendous impact on your well-being, whether it’s physical or psychological,” he said.

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