Let me in: The neural correlates of inclusion motivation in loneliness

A. Kanterman, D. Scheele, M. Nevat, N. Saporta, J. Lieberz, R. Hurlemann, S. Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: While it is well-established that humans possess an innate need for social belonging, the neural mechanisms underlying motivation for connection are still largely unknown. We propose that inclusion motivation – measured through the effort that individuals are willing to invest to be included in social interactions – may serve as one of the basic building blocks of social behavior and may change in lonely individuals. Methods: Following the screening of 303 participants, we scanned 30 low- and 28 high-loneliness individuals with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they performed the Active Inclusion Task (AIT). The AIT assesses the participants' levels of effort invested in influencing their inclusion during classic Cyberball conditions of fair play and exclusion. Results: High- compared to low-loneliness individuals showed higher urgency for inclusion, specifically during fair play, which correlated with higher activity in the right thalamus. Furthermore, in high-loneliness individuals, we found increased functional connectivity between the thalamus and the temporoparietal junction, putamen, and insula. Limitations: Participants interacted with computerized avatars, reducing ecological validity. Additionally, although increasing inclusion in the task required action, the physical demand was not high. Additional limitations are discussed. Conclusions: Inclusion motivation in loneliness is heightened during fair but not exclusionary interactions, and is linked to activity in brain regions implicated in appetitive behavior and social cognition. The findings indicate that lonely individuals may view threat in inclusionary interactions, prompting them to take action to regain connection. This suggests that inclusion motivation may help explain social difficulties in loneliness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-408
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - 15 Sep 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier B.V.


  • Inclusion motivation
  • Loneliness
  • Social brain
  • Thalamus
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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