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June 7, 2012

The Matilda White Riley Lecture: Social Isolation and Health

Speaker - Cacioppo, John T., National Institutes of Health (U.S.)

Social species, by definition, form organizations that extend beyond the individual. These structures evolved hand in hand with behavioral, neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms to support them because the consequent social behaviors helped these organisms survive, reproduce, and care for offspring sufficiently long that they too reproduced, thereby ensuring their genetic legacy.

Social isolation represents a lens through which to investigate these behavioral, neural, hormonal, cellular, and genetic mechanisms. Evidence from human and nonhuman animal studies indicates that isolation heightens sensitivity to social threats (predator evasion) and motivates the renewal of social connections. The effects of perceived isolation in humans share much in common with the effects of experimental manipulations of isolation in nonhuman social species: increased tonic sympathetic tonus and HPA activation, and decreased inflammatory control, immunity, sleep salubrity, and expression of genes regulating glucocorticoid responses. Together, these effects contribute to higher rates of morbidity and mortality in older adults.

This page last reviewed on June 7, 2013

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