The neurocognitive impact of loneliness and social networks on social adaptation
Sci Rep. 2023 Jul 25;13(1):12048. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-38244-0.
Social adaptation arises from the interaction between the individual and the social environment. However, little empirical evidence exists regarding the relationship between social contact and social adaptation. We propose that loneliness and social networks are key factors explaining social adaptation. Sixty-four healthy subjects with no history of psychiatric conditions participated in this study. All participants completed self-report questionnaires about loneliness, social network, and social adaptation. On a separate day, subjects underwent a resting state fMRI recording session. A hierarchical regression model on self-report data revealed that loneliness and social network were negatively and positively associated with social adaptation. Functional connectivity (FC) analysis showed that loneliness was associated with decreased FC between the fronto-amygdalar and fronto-parietal regions. In contrast, the social network was positively associated with FC between the fronto-temporo-parietal network. Finally, an integrative path model examined the combined effects of behavioral and brain predictors of social adaptation. The model revealed that social networks mediated the effects of loneliness on social adaptation. Further, loneliness-related abnormal brain FC (previously shown to be associated with difficulties in cognitive control, emotion regulation, and sociocognitive processes) emerged as the strongest predictor of poor social adaptation. Findings offer insights into the brain indicators of social adaptation and highlight the role of social networks as a buffer against the maladaptive effects of loneliness. These findings can inform interventions aimed at minimizing loneliness and promoting social adaptation and are especially relevant due to the high prevalence of loneliness around the globe. These findings also serve the study of social adaptation since they provide potential neurocognitive factors that could influence social adaptation.