For social animals like humans, the health cost of loner-dom can be high—depression, high blood pressure, and an increase in stress hormones have all been linked to a lack of social connection. Previous research has also shown that when people are feeling lonely, they are better at cooperating and are more sensitive to emotions and social cues. But a new, small, weird study published in Psychological Science suggests that the isolated may cast about too wildly for companionship, leaving them with a lowered ability to tell if a face is alive or not.
Researchers at Dartmouth College and Harvard University showed a group of 30 students a series of 90 faces. Some of the faces were human, some were inanimate (a doll or a statue), and the rest were morphs of human and non-human faces, on a continuum of 0 to 100 percent human. The participants categorized each face as “animate” or “inanimate,” then, after the facial recognition task, filled out a questionnaire designed to measure their need for social connection.
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