Could loneliness be as contagious as the H1N1 virus? Is loneliness dangerous to the public’s health? Usually we think of “infection” or “contagion” only in relation to medical viruses and define lonely people as those who keep their feelings to themselves.
Yet in a ten-year study researchers have found that loneliness is contagious and that it spreads through social networks. A lonely person can affect people as many as three degrees of separation away. If someone directly connected to me is seriously lonely, for example, I am 52 percent more likely to be lonely. A second degree of separation leads to a 25 percent increase; a third degree, 15 percent. I may be affected by the emotional reactions of my co-worker’s spouse’s brother.