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The Ties That Bind

Studies of human social networks go high-tech

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2:38pm, December 31, 2009

When John Cacioppo walks around Chicago with his book Loneliness, he hides the cover. “Who wants to go around with a big L on their forehead?” he says. Society, he complains, treats loneliness as a disease.

“People think it’s just neuroticism, or it’s people who can’t form relationships,” Cacioppo says. In 15 years of studying social isolation, the University of Chicago psychologist has found that loneliness is just another emotion. “Everybody has the capacity to be lonely, just as everybody has the capacity to feel pain,” he says.

And yet in one sense, his work shows how loneliness is very much like a disease: It can spread like the common cold.

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