Altered activation in the action observation system during synchronization in high loneliness individuals

Nira Saporta, Dirk Scheele, Jana Lieberz, Michael Nevat, Alisa Kanterman, Rene Hurlemann, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lonely people tend to evaluate social exchanges negatively and to display difficulties in interactions. Interpersonal synchronization is crucial for achieving positive interactions, promoting affinity, closeness, and satisfaction. However, little is known about lonely individuals' ability to synchronize and about their brain activity while synchronizing. Following the screening of 303 participants, we recruited 32 low and 32 high loneliness participants. They were scanned while engaged in movement synchronization, using a novel dyadic interaction paradigm. Results showed that high loneliness individuals exhibited a reduced ability to adapt their movement to their partner's movement. Intriguingly, during movement adaptation periods, high loneliness individuals showed increased activation in the action observation (AO) system, specifically in the inferior frontal gyrus and the inferior parietal lobule. They did not show increased activation in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which in the context of synchronization was suggested to be related to gap-monitoring. Based on these findings, we propose a model according to which lonely people may require stronger activation of their AO system for alignment, to compensate for some deficiency in their synchronization ability. Despite this hyperactivation, they still suffer from reduced synchronization capacity. Consequently, synchronization may be a relevant intervention area for the amelioration of loneliness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-402
Number of pages18
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


  • inferior frontal gyrus
  • inferior parietal lobule
  • interpersonal synchronization
  • mirror neuron system
  • social interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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