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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Mar;10(2):213-26. doi: 10.1177/1745691614564878.

The genetics of loneliness: linking evolutionary theory to genome-wide genetics, epigenetics, and social science.

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School Psychology and Child and Adolescent Development, KU Leuven-University of Leuven
University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen.
Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University.
Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, University of Chicago Department of Psychology, University of Chicago.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience High Performance Electrical Neuroimaging Laboratory, University of Chicago.
School Psychology and Child and Adolescent Development, KU Leuven-University of Leuven.
Department of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam.


As a complex trait, loneliness is likely to be influenced by the interplay of numerous genetic and environmental factors. Studies in behavioral genetics indicate that loneliness has a sizable degree of heritability. Candidate-gene and gene-expression studies have pointed to several genes related to neurotransmitters and the immune system. The notion that these genes are related to loneliness is compatible with the basic tenets of the evolutionary theory of loneliness. Research on gene-environment interactions indicates that social-environmental factors (e.g., low social support) may have a more pronounced effect and lead to higher levels of loneliness if individuals carry the sensitive variant of these candidate genes. Currently, there is no extant research on loneliness based on genome-wide association studies, gene-environment-interaction studies, or studies in epigenetics. Such studies would allow researchers to identify networks of genes that contribute to loneliness. The contribution of genetics to loneliness research will become stronger when genome-wide genetics and epigenetics are integrated and used along with well-established methods in psychology to analyze the complex process of gene-environment interplay.


behavioral genetics; environment; evolutionary psychology

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