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A World Living Alone

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that the number of people living on their own could double within 25 years. In Great Britain, more people than ever are living alone, and according to the Economic and Social Research Council, once someone has gone solo, he or she is more likely to remain solo. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than one in every four households has become solitary.

And that’s a serious health problem, reports University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo Using brain imaging, blood pressure analysis, immune response, stress hormones, and gene expression, Cacioppo demonstrates that humans are designed to feel secure when they are with others and to feel threatened when alone. In other words, the survival of our species depended much less on how big and strong — or even how smart — we were than on how well we got along with others. With this kind of evolutionary background, it easy to see how loneliness can cause our health systems to weaken, turn on themselves, and eventually fall apart.

In his new book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (W.W. Norton, 2008) Cacioppo and science writer William Patrick suggest that while rugged individualism may play well in movie theaters, in real life it’s dangerous and truly self-defeating.


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