Urge to socialize becomes stronger after periods of acute isolation: Study

‘Humans instinctively realize how social isolation impacts their behaviour: they want to see and be among others.’

NEW DELHI — Following periods of acute isolation, female mice demonstrate a great desire to connect with other females, according to new Cornell University study, dramatically boosting their production of social calls that are similar to human emotional vocalizations.

The researchers stated their actions offer a viable avenue for studying the brain mechanisms through which isolation impacts people’s social engagement and mental health, which has become a rising worry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study was published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open-access journal by the Public Library of Science.

‘Humans instinctively want to see and interact with people’

That type of social connection between female mice is the most similar to our daily relationships with other people, Katherine Tschida, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, opines.

She adds that humans intuitively understand how social isolation affects our behaviour: we desire to see and connect with people.

Four-fold increase in USVs after isolation period

The researchers wanted to see if exposing mice to acute isolation – three days alone in their home cage – would lead them to increase ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs), as well as non-vocal social activities such sniffing and following another mouse into the cage.

USVs, which are inaudible to humans, are noises like laughing, sobbing, and sighing that assist signal and transmit emotional states, according to Tschida.

Female-female interactions revealed a “profound effect” from acute isolation, with a fourfold increase in USVs and more non-verbal social behaviours compared to a control group of mice kept in group housing.

‘Acute isolation may not have profound impact on men’s sexual urges’

According to the researchers, acute isolation may not be enough to have a substantial impact on men’ sex urges with females or aggressive motivation with other men. It did, however, appear to have a significant impact on the need for affiliative social contact, which is considered to inspire female social activity.

With one complicated caveat: female mice mounted other female mice more frequently after emerging from isolation, presumably as a kind of low-level aggressiveness aimed at maintaining social hierarchy.

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