Social isolation creates craving in the same brain region as wanting food or addictive drugs, study finds

What do 20 pizzas and five hours of face time with your most boring mate have in common?

Cravings for social interactions affect the same area of the brain hit by hunger pangs after a long absence of nosh, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found.

In a quest to understand the effects of social isolation during a global pandemic, the researchers recruited a group of 40 subjects to undergo a 10-hour session of isolation from in-person and online social interactions. They also had to endure the same time fasting as part of the study.

After each session, those taking part in the study viewed images of social interactions, such as people laughing, smiling and physical proximity while having their brains analysed with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner. They were also shown pictures of creamy cheesy pasta and fresh berries in the illustration used in the journal Nature Neuroscience. As a control, they were additionally presented with pictures of flowers.

Brain scans revealed that the same midbrain region associated with reward and novelty responses consistent with dopaminergic activity – substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental – showed greater responses to social images after isolation and to food images after fasting.

"After isolation, social cues evoke neural signatures of craving. In primates, aversive motivation – a negative state such as hunger or pain that motivates behavior to relieve the state – is represented in the SN/VTA24 and the SN/VTA is activated by craving for food and for drugs of addiction," the paper said.

However, the cravings resulting from social isolation were specific to those social stimuli, research associate Dr Livia Tomova and her colleagues found.

The researchers said they hoped the study could help contribute to a greater understanding of the impact of social isolation during a period when it has, to some extent, been mandated by governments to mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

"A vital question is how much, and what kinds of, positive social interaction is sufficient to fulfil our social needs and thus eliminate the neural craving response," the paper said. "Technological advances offer incessant opportunities to be virtually connected with others, despite physical separations. Yet, some have argued that using social media only exacerbates subjective feelings of isolation.

"The potential for virtual interactions to fulfil social needs is particularly relevant when large populations are required to self-isolate, for example during a global pandemic.

"This unprecedented upheaval in people's social routines emphasized the need for a better understanding of human social needs and the neural mechanisms underlying social motivation." ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021