A Loner's Brain Is Different

Lonely people have different brains, both anatomically and functionally. In this article, we talk about the most interesting scientific findings in this regard.
A Loner's Brain Is Different
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Written by Yamila Papa

Last update: 21 December, 2022

A study indicates that people who prefer to be alone tend to see things differently. In fact, they make decisions in a different way from others. In addition, loners experience less activity in the area of the brain related to the reward system. However, it’s not yet known what happens first: the isolation or the change in activation.

A loner can be lonely by choice or due to others. For example, someone may say that they feel better if they spend most of their time away from the company of others. On the other hand, perhaps they simply can’t find someone to spend their time with. Either way, the loner’s brain has a lot to do with it.

“Whosoever delights in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.”


Rewards and the loner’s brain

According to a report in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, the region of the brain known as the striatum is less active in loners. This zone is associated with certain daily rewards, such as money and food.

Lonely woman watching the sunrise

In this study, 23 university students were grouped together. They were asked a series of questions to discriminate to what degree they felt socially isolated and considered they were loners. Also, to what extent they enjoyed and wanted social contact.

The researchers then scanned the students’ brains while they were looking at pictures of happy people. They discovered that, in those students who didn’t have an intense social life, the reward area lit up less, a sign of less activation.

However, the sample taken for the study was small and extremely restricted in terms of the variability of certain parameters, such as age, dedication, and sex. Therefore, the authors asked that it be interpreted with the prudence that the study error determined.

“The strongest men are the most alone.”

-Henrik Ibsen-

The scientists in charge of the experiment proposed the following hypothesis. A loner is less dependent on society. Therefore, the rewards related to this context don’t arouse great enthusiasm in them.

Loneliness, introversion, and perception

Not enough studies have yet been conducted to successfully define the characteristics of the brains of loners. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the literature in this field isn’t extensive, researchers have found some curious results.

For example, it’s been shown that there’s a close relationship between introversion, creativity, and originality. Furthermore, loners enjoy greater enjoyment or satisfaction when they obtain results from their ‘mental efforts’.

Woman's hands writing in a notebook in the field

According to Amanda Guyer, a psychologist at the National Institute of Health in Maryland (USA), socially withdrawn people are more sensitive to sensory and emotional interactions. This means that interaction has more of an effect on them.

To arrive at this theory, Guyer designed a study with two groups of children, some of whom were reserved and others not. Everyone had to participate in a game in which, if they pressed a button, they won money. There was up to three times more brain activity in the striata of the reserved children than members of the other group.

There’s more activity in the loner’s brain in situations of social contact

Sometimes, loners find themselves at a meeting, party, or event that involves being close to other people. In those moments, certain areas of the brain markedly increase the flow of blood, causing a kind of over-excitation. This could be one of the reasons why shy people don’t like to socialize.

“They say I’m a hero. I’m weak, timid, almost insignificant. If being the way I am, I did what I did, imagine what all of you can do together”

-Mahatma Gandhi-

On the other hand, studies suggest that a loner’s brain has the ability to adapt to various experiences, thanks to its extra sensitivity. Because of this, they can respond faster at times when there may be high social demand. For example, certain states of emergency.

Woman painting an oil painting in the field

Finally, it’s worth saying that loners are good at perceiving subtleties or details that the rest of us tend to ignore. That’s why they’re usually good writers, painters, or witnesses since their brains prepare them for it. As a matter of fact, genius, as well as being associated with a certain degree of madness, is also linked to loneliness.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cacioppo, J. T., Norris, C. J., Decety, J., Monteleone, G., & Nusbaum, H. (2009). In the eye of the beholder: individual differences in perceived social isolation predict regional brain activation to social stimuli. Journal of cognitive neuroscience21(1), 83-92.
  • Spreng, R. N., Dimas, E., Mwilambwe-Tshilobo, L., Dagher, A., Koellinger, P., Nave, G., … & Bzdok, D. (2020). The default network of the human brain is associated with perceived social isolation. Nature communications11(1), 1-11.

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