Study: 8 hours alone can be as tiring for some people as going without food

2023-04-23 15:15:00, Kuriozitete CNA
Study: 8 hours alone can be as tiring for some people as going without food
Illustrative photo

As the social animals that they are, humans need the company of others almost as much as they need water, air and food. Previous studies have shown that constant isolation damages our health in several ways.

Now a new study by researchers from the University of Vienna in Austria and the University of Cambridge in Great Britain has found that in some people, 8 hours alone can decrease energy and increase fatigue just as much as going 8 hours without eating.

The team's lab test and field experiment showed that people who live alone or have few social interactions every day are more likely to be harmed by a lack of companionship. Furthermore, it appears that the reduction in energy is the result of changes in the body's homeostatic response.

So a kind of balancing act, where the lack of social connection causes a biological reaction. "In the laboratory study, we discovered striking similarities between social isolation and food deprivation. Both conditions caused a decrease in energy and increased fatigue, which is surprising considering that food deprivation causes us to lose energy, while social isolation does not" - say the main authors of the study, psychologists Ana Stijovic and Paul Forbes from the University of Vienna in Austria.

For the laboratory study, 30 female volunteers were examined on 3 days separated by 8 hours each: one day without social contact, one day without food, and one day without social contact or food. Participants made comments about their stress, mood and fatigue, while their heart rates and salivary cortisol levels (standard indicators of stress) were also measured.

Meanwhile, the field experiment involved 87 participants living in Austria, Italy and Germany, and which covered the period of lockdown measures due to Covid-19 between April and May 2020. Participants had spent at least 8 hours in isolation.

They were asked to answer questions via a smartphone app, similar to those asked in the lab test: about stress, about mood and about fatigue. While the field experiment did not involve food, its results—lower energy levels after isolation—concur with the lab test, suggesting that the comparison between being without social interaction and without food causes the same symptoms.

The real-world test showed that the most affected were those who lived alone and the most sociable. Their reported energy levels fell on days when they didn't interact with anyone compared to days when they had some brief social interactions, an effect not seen in the less sociable participants.

"The fact that we see this effect even after a short period of social isolation shows that the low energy level can be an adaptive 'social homeostatic' response, which in the long term can become non-adaptive" - ??says psychology Jorgia Silani from the University of Vienna.

So, as the time of confinement increases, the damage is likely to deepen. Previous studies have compared loneliness to public health problems such as obesity, suggesting that there is a significant risk of premature death due to social isolation.

Likewise, previous research has also found evidence of a feedback loop, where a lack of social engagement makes us less likely to want to go out and bond. A kind of spiral of loneliness from which it is increasingly difficult to get out. However, we know that spending time alone can be beneficial for some people in terms of their well-being.

Future research on larger and more diverse groups of participants will be able to further examine these associations. "It is a well-known fact that long-term loneliness and fatigue are linked. But we know little about the immediate mechanisms underlying this connection" - says Silani. The research was published in "Psychological Science"./ Adapted from CNA.al 


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