Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network
John T. Cacioppo
University of Chicago - Department of Psychology
James H. Fowler
UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences; UC San Diego School of Medicine
Nicholas A. Christakis
Harvard Medical School - Department of Health Care Policy
December 1, 2008
The discrepancy between an individual's loneliness and the number of connections in a social network is well documented, yet little is known about the placement of loneliness within, or the spread of loneliness through, social networks. We use network linkage data from the population-based Framingham Heart Study to trace the topography of loneliness in people's social networks and the path through which loneliness spreads through these networks. Results indicated that loneliness occurs in clusters, extends up to three degrees of separation, is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks, and spreads through a contagious process. The spread of loneliness was found to be stronger than the spread of perceived social connections, stronger for friends than family members, and stronger for women than for men. The results advance our understanding of the broad social forces that drive loneliness and suggest that efforts to reduce loneliness in our society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in the periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network from unraveling.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 51working papers series
Date posted: December 22, 2008 ; Last revised: December 2, 2009
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