Study Finds Loneliness is Dangerous and Contagious. Vet Blogger Asks: How do Pets Affect Loneliness?

The science and technology section of The Economist is a good source of material for this blog. From an article in the December 12, 2009...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Dec 19th 2009


The science and technology section of The Economist is a good source of material for this blog. From an article in the December 12, 2009 issue:

Feeling lonely is more than just unpleasant for those who yearn to be surrounded by warm relationshipsit is a health hazard. Numerous studies show that loneliness reduces fruit-fly lifespans, increases the chances of mice developing diabetes, and causes a host of adverse effects in people, including cardiovascular disease, obesity and weakening of the immune system. Simply being surrounded by others is no cure. In people, the mere perception of being isolated is more than enough to create the bad health effects.

The article goes on to describe a longitudinal study of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts. The residents were studied for several decades. Loneliness of participants was assessed (see the article for more on methodology), and an interesting conclusion was reached: loneliness is contagious. The authors of the study surmise that negative feelings among lonely people are projected into their relationships, causing increased feelings of loneliness in friends (and friends of friends) of the lonely.

Where do pets come in? They aren’t mentioned in the article. But I know from personal experience that it’s hard to feel lonely as my pal Buster falls over himself with joy upon my arrival home. A cat on my lap drives away loneliness as well.

Numerous studies have shown that pets reduce loneliness and feelings of isolation. And now I wonder: have the researchers in Framingham been tracking pet ownership among study participants? Is the feeling of well-being that pets provide contagious, too?