Your Feelings Of Loneliness Can Actually Be Genetic, Science Says

Guille Faingold

I've dealt with loneliness throughout my life, even in times when everything seemed fine or in place (like, I had a good social circle, a supportive family and a great job).

In those lonely times, I tried to make sense of what was worth fixing so I could put my loneliness at bay. Yet everything seemed too good to fix.

Then, I'd turn inward and assume it wasn't something in the external world making me feel lonely, but something within me. 

If you feel lonely frequently and lost about its origins like I do, science says it may not necessarily be because of something you're doing (or not doing). According to Science Daily, loneliness can actually be in our genes.

Dr. Abraham Palmer, professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and a team of researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement study.

The study posed the following questions to 10,670 people age 50 and older: How often do you feel that you lack companionship? How often do you feel left out? And how often do you feel isolated from others?

The study also took into account major factors like age, gender and the fact that single people tend to feel more lonely than married folks.

Results showed the trait of loneliness — not just random bouts of loneliness, but a prolonged feeling of loneliness — is between 14 to 27 percent genetic, which makes it a "modestly inheritable" trait.

A prolonged feeling of loneliness is between 14 to 27 percent genetic.

They also found that neuroticism, or a long-term state of negative emotions, as well as symptoms of depression can be inherited along with loneliness.

"For two people with the same number of close friends and family, one might see their social structure as adequate while the other doesn't," Palmer says. "We want to know why, genetically speaking, one person is more likely than another to feel lonely, even in the same situation."

Palmer's team plan on taking their research one step further in the future: They want to look for a particular genetic variation that would give them more information about the specific molecular makeup that influences loneliness.

It's comforting to know that I may not have felt plagued by loneliness because of particular life circumstances. Hopefully, this research may help other people understand why they, too, feel lonely sometimes but can't always pinpoint why.