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Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network

51 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2008 Last revised: 2 Dec 2009

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

Date Written: December 1, 2008

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Cacioppo, John T. and Fowler, James H. and Christakis, Nicholas A., Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network (December 1, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1319108 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1319108

John T. Cacioppo

University of Chicago - Department of Psychology ( email )

5848 S. University Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

James H. Fowler (Contact Author)

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

UC San Diego School of Medicine ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0507
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

Nicholas A. Christakis

Harvard Medical School - Department of Health Care Policy ( email )

25 Shattuck Street
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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