Social Exclusion Alters Brain Chemistry
> 11/10/2006 1:50:31 PM

In what can only be described as a punishing study, researchers at the University of Georgia and San Diego State University measured the neurological responses of thirty female undergraduates to determine that projected isolation and rejection alter brain functions and lead to problems in concentration, productivity and decision making. The women each filled out a given personality survey which they believed would be fed into a database for further study. Half the participants then received an informal assessment stating that they would eventually "end up alone" and unhappy. After these false judgements were passed, the entire group completed a series of basic math problems while their brain functions were analyzed by MEG, a magnetic recording device used mostly to measure the neurological processes of patients with epilepsy. 

Scientists and common sense have long understood that a sense of rejection or social isolation can lead to distracting, negative emotions that interfere with daily life. But this study seems to prove that such incidents actually impair the chemical functions of the brain. The members of the study who recieved a negative social diagnosis did not perform as well on the math problems, and activity in their prefrontal, parietal, and occipital cortexes, which together regulate attention, memory, and self-control. Though the study was small in scale and largely speculative, researchers concluded that negative responses to personality questionnaires led directly the momentary decrease in statistical and reasoning skills.

Some of the nebulous implications of this study provide fodder for discussions about why certain individuals who believe themselves to be shunned by peers often seek similar company while others act to isolate themselves further. The study can also be seen as further confirmation of the general belief that people involved in satisfying relationships, both romantic and platonic, tend to perform better at work and school. These conclusions are hardly revelatory, and they will not define the  path to a successful social life, but they may lead to better treatment for those suffering from the shifts in temperament that closely follow feelings of rejection or isolation. Loneliness is difficult by definition, since peer support can be essential to overcoming depression, and the better we understand the brain's debilitating response, the better we can treat and prevent it in the future.

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