" Lead researcher and neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo has likened using a drug to rubbing frost from a windshield. Loneliness increases both a desire to connect with others, and a gut instinct for self-preservation (“if I let you get close to me, you’ll only hurt me, too”). People become more wary, cautious and self-centred. The idea is to help people see things as they are, “rather than being afraid of everyone,” Cacioppo said in an interview with Smithsonian.com.
For some, the idea of a pharmacological buffer against loneliness is just another sign of the creeping medicalization of everyday human woes: Wouldn’t a pill for loneliness only make us more indifferent, more disconnected? Is it really the best we can do to fix the modern world’s so-called epidemic of loneliness?
But linking such statistics to a loneliness “epidemic” is problematic, Bound Alberti said. “It’s not always clear whether we are talking about isolation or social circumstances, which can change — how many of these women are new mums, for instance,” she said.
We can expect to be lonely at some moments in our lives, especially transitional ones, and she wonders what different emotions and life experiences are being lumped under the broad idea of “loneliness.”
In Bound Alberti’s new book, A Biography of Loneliness: The History of An Emotion, she argues loneliness is a product of neoliberal individualism. Using a series of case studies, from social media to Queen Victoria to Sylvia Plath, she shows how emotions change over time.:
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