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The Effects of 8 Hours of Solitude on Your Body


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Human beings need companionship just like they need water, air, and food. Previous research has shown that permanent isolation puts us at risk of physical harm for many reasons.

A new study by scientists from the University of Vienna in Austria and the University of Cambridge in the UK has found that eight hours of solitude can deplete energy and increase fatigue in some people by up to eight hours without food.

Moreover, low energy seems to be the result of changes in the body’s homeostasis response: a kind of homeostatic action in which the lack of social contact triggers a biological response.

“In a laboratory study, we found a striking similarity between social isolation and food deprivation. Both conditions caused low energy and increased fatigue, which is surprising considering that food deprivation literally makes us lose energy, while social isolation does not.”

For the laboratory study, 30 female volunteers were examined over three separate eight-hour days: one day without social contact, one day without food, and one day without social contact or food. Participants provided feedback on their stress, mood, and fatigue, and their heart rate and salivary cortisol levels (standard measures of stress) were measured.

The field trial involved 87 people living in Austria, Italy, or Germany and covered the COVID-19 lockdown periods from April to May 2020. Participants spent at least eight hours in isolation and were asked to answer questions via smartphone about stress, mood and fatigue.

Although the field experiment did not include food, its results – lower energy levels after lockdown – were consistent with laboratory studies, suggesting that the comparison between lack of social interaction and lack of livelihood is correct. The real world test also showed that those who lived alone were the most socially affected. And their reported energy levels dropped on days when they didn’t interact with anyone, compared to days with few short social interactions—an effect not seen in less social participants.

“The fact that we see this effect even after a short period of social isolation suggests that low energy may be a ‘social homeostatic’ adaptive response that may become inadequate in the long term,” says psychologist Georgia Silani from the University of Vienna. . . .

So the damage is likely to worsen over time in isolation: previous studies have compared loneliness with general health problems such as obesity, suggesting there is a higher risk of premature death due to social isolation.

Previous research has also shown a feedback loop, where the lack of social activity reduces the likelihood that we will want to go out into the world and make connections – a kind of loneliness spiral from which it is increasingly difficult to escape.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Source: Science Alert

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