See Inside April/May 2006

Loneliness Predisposed

If you feel lonely persistently, blame it partly on your genes. In a survey of 8,387 siblings, 48 percent of identical twins and 24 percent of fraternal twins reported similar levels of moderate to extreme loneliness, with much higher agreement than siblings who were not twins. The results come from a 12-year study done in the Netherlands by psychologists at Free University and the University of Amsterdam and at the University of Chicago.

The findings, along with ongoing investigation of a satellite of proximal genes on chromosome 12, suggest that some individuals have a genetic vulnerability to feelings of loneliness. Such a propensity should not, however, be thought of as an immutable trait, such as eye color, says psychology professor John T. Cacioppo of the University of Chicago. Rather the genetic bent should be viewed as a risk factor that makes certain individuals more sensitive to environmental factors that can cause loneliness.

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