The University of Alabama

Physical Effects of Social Isolation Highlights UA Basowitz Lecture

Dr. John Cacioppo will deliver the Harold Basowitz Memorial Lecture on Jan. 24.

Dr. John Cacioppo will deliver the Harold Basowitz Memorial Lecture Jan. 24.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Being a loner, even when one is satisfied with their social isolation, could have dire consequences for one’s long-term health.

Dr. John T. Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, will present the biological explanations for the effects of perceived social isolation during the annual Harold Basowitz Memorial Lecture on The University of Alabama campus Friday, Jan. 24.

The lecture is open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. in room 1093 of Shelby Hall.

Cacioppo said epidemiologists’ long-recognized link between social isolation and morbidity/mortality, which has been explained in terms of social influences and health behavior, isn’t sufficient. Cacioppo and co-researchers have advanced a social neuroscience viewpoint on the association between loneliness and morbidity and mortality in humans.

“The Brain, Social Neuroscience, and Loneliness” will highlight a model that provides a biological explanation for social isolation documented in longitudinal studies of older adults, Cacioppo said.

“According to our social neuroscience hypothesis, when on the social perimeter, the brain evolved to default into a short-term self-preservation mode,” Cacioppo explained, “producing a range of neural and behavioral effects, including the increased implicit vigilance for social threats along with increased anxiety, hostility and social withdrawal to avoid predation.”

Other responses include increased sleep fragmentation to avoid predation during sleep; elevated vascular activity, heightened HPA activity, and altered gene expression and immunity to deal with potential assaults that may arise.

“These neural and behavioral responses may increase the likelihood of short-term survival, but they can carry long-term costs especially when the experience of social isolation becomes chronic,” Cacioppo said.

Cacioppo received his Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Missouri in 1973 and his doctorate in psychology from Ohio State University in 1977. He is a pioneer in the field of social neuroscience and the author of more than 400 scientific articles and 20 books.

The Harold Basowitz Memorial Lecture is sponsored by UA’s department of psychology in memory of Basowitz, who came to UA in 1940 and remained until called into military service. Basowitz returned to Tuscaloosa in 1946 and received his undergraduate degree from UA in 1947. He then went on to complete his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Princeton in 1951.

Basowitz’s distinguished career included administrative roles at the National Institute of Mental Health and professor of psychology for many years at New York University. Basowitz’s lifelong friend, Professor Irving Alexander, is the donor of the Basowitz endowment.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.