October 27, 2020 by Dymphna

T-Bomb: Beware the ‘loneliness loop’

Truth Bomb Tuesday: If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Your social skills might not bounce back.

I don’t want to be too much of an alarmist here, but the whole Covid story is creating bunch of pitfalls to watch out for.

And now we’ve got to add the destruction of our social skills to the watch-list.

Because, as the name suggests, social skills are just that – a skill.

And like any skill, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Psychologists call this ‘The Loneliness Loop’.

The idea is that if we find ourselves in isolation for whatever reason, our social skills start to get a little rusty.

That in turn makes it harder to reach out and connect with people, which compounds our isolation.

It’s a vicious circle. The Loneliness Loop.

There’s a few interesting studies that back this up.

Last year, German scientists discovered that the brains of nine polar explorers, who lived in Antarctica for 14 months at a research station, were actually smaller by the end of the trip.

This is scientists doing sciency stuff. And their brains shrunk!

By looking at MRI scans taken before and afterwards, they found that on average, the “dentate gyrus” – a C-shaped region which is mostly involved in the formation of new memories – was diminished by about 7% over the course of the expedition.


I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling like I’ve got 7% to spare in any region of my brain.

(Maybe the cake-identifying region…)

And it’s not like the reduction was made up for in other areas. The explorers actually performed worse on two tests of intelligence – one for spatial processing, which is the ability to tell where objects are in space, and one for selective attention, which is broadly how well you can focus on a particular object for a period of time.

So you know, pretty useful life-skills to have.

Of course it’s not science unless it involves a study of rats.

So in another study, they took rats that had spent time in insolation and introduced them back in with other rats.

What they found is that the previously isolated rats had lost some ability to interact socially. So much so that the other rats, sadly, actually avoided them!

So the lesson here is that we can’t ignore our social skills.

If we’re locked-down, or even just working from home a lot more, we need to be aware that this is going to have some impact on our social skills.

The antidote though is fairly obvious – practice socialising. Make time and space for genuine social interaction.

And I say ‘genuine’ because looking at people’s photos of their food and throwing them a few ‘likes’ is not genuine social interaction.

It’s faux interaction, and is going to do nothing to help you out in the ‘real’ world – assuming it still exists somewhere.

So sharpen the saw. Keep your social skills sharp.

You’re going to need them when this whole storm blows over.