Away from the herd: loneliness as a dysfunction of social alignment

Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Alisa Kanterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tendency of all humans to experience loneliness at some point in their lives implies that it serves an adaptive function. Building on biological theories of herding in animals, according to which collective movement emerges from local interactions that are based on principles of attraction, repulsion and alignment, we propose an approach that synthesizes these principles with theories of loneliness in humans. We present here the 'herding model of loneliness' that extends these principles into the psychological domain. We hold that these principles serve as basic building blocks of human interactions and propose that distorted attraction and repulsion tendencies may lead to inability to align properly with others, which may be a core component in loneliness emergence and perpetuation. We describe a neural model of herding in humans and suggest that loneliness may be associated with altered interactions between the gap/error detection, reward signaling, threat and observation-execution systems. The proposed model offers a framework to predict the behavior of lonely individuals and thus may inform intervention designs for reducing loneliness intensity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 16 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024. Published by Oxford University Press.


  • herding
  • loneliness
  • social alignment
  • social brain
  • synchrony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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