Loneliness is detrimental to well-being and is often accompanied by self-reported feelings of not being understood by other people. What contributes to such feelings in lonely people? We used functional MRI of 66 first-year university students to unobtrusively measure the relative alignment of people’s mental processing of naturalistic stimuli and tested whether lonely people actually process the world in idiosyncratic ways. We found evidence for such idiosyncrasy: Lonely individuals’ neural responses were dissimilar to those of their peers, particularly in regions of the default-mode network in which similar responses have been associated with shared perspectives and subjective understanding. These relationships persisted when we controlled for demographic similarities, objective social isolation, and individuals’ friendships with each other. Our findings raise the possibility that being surrounded by people who see the world differently from oneself, even if one is friends with them, may be a risk factor for loneliness.
Full text available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/09567976221145316