Touched by loneliness - How loneliness impacts the response to observed human touch: A tDCS study

Nira Saporta, Leehe Peled-Avron, Dirk Scheele, Jana Lieberz, René Hurlemann, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Lonely people often crave connectedness. However, they may also experience their environment as threatening, entering a self-preserving state that perpetuates loneliness. Research shows conflicting evidence about their response to positive social cues, and little is known about their experience of observed human touch. The right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) is part of an observation-execution network implicated in observed touch perception. Correlative studies also point to rIFG's involvement in loneliness. We examined the causal effect of rIFG anodal transcranial direct current stimulation on high- and low-loneliness individuals observing human touch. In a cross-over design study, 40 participants watched pictures of humans or objects touching or not touching during anodal and sham stimulations. Participants indicated whether pictures contained humans or objects, and their reaction time was measured. Results show that the reaction time of low-loneliness individuals to observed human touch was significantly slower during anodal stimulation compared to high-loneliness individuals, possibly due to them being more emotionally distracted by it. Lonely individuals also reported less liking of touch. Our findings support the notion that lonely individuals are not drawn to positive social cues. This may help explain the perpetuation of loneliness, despite social opportunities that could be available to lonely people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-150
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Volume17
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the German-Israel Foundation for Scientific Research and Development grant (GIF, I-1428-105.4/2017). L.P.A. is supported by the Israel Science Foundation fellowship (grant no. 147/20) and by the Zuckerman-Council for higher education (CHE) STEM Leadership Program fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021.

Keywords

  • Affective touch
  • Inferior frontal gyrus
  • Loneliness
  • TDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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