Perceived social isolation is associated with altered functional connectivity in neural networks associated with tonic alertness and executive control

Elliot A. Layden, John T. Cacioppo, Stephanie Cacioppo, Stefano F. Cappa, Alessandra Dodich, Andrea Falini, Nicola Canessa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceived social isolation (PSI), colloquially known as loneliness, is associated with selectively altered attentional, cognitive, and affective processes in humans, but the neural mechanisms underlying these adjustments remain largely unexplored. Behavioral, eye tracking, and neuroimaging research has identified associations between PSI and implicit hypervigilance for social threats. Additionally, selective executive dysfunction has been evidenced by reduced prepotent response inhibition in social Stroop and dichotic listening tasks. Given that PSI is associated with pre-attentional processes, PSI may also be related to altered resting-state functional connectivity (FC) in the brain. Therefore, we conducted the first resting-state fMRI FC study of PSI in healthy young adults. Five-minute resting-state scans were obtained from 55 participants (31 females). Analyses revealed robust associations between PSI and increased brain-wide FC in areas encompassing the right central operculum and right supramarginal gyrus, and these associations were not explained by depressive symptomatology, objective isolation, or demographics. Further analyses revealed that PSI was associated with increased FC between several nodes of the cingulo-opercular network, a network known to underlie the maintenance of tonic alertness. These regions encompassed the bilateral insula/frontoparietal opercula and ACC/pre-SMA. In contrast, FC between the cingulo-opercular network and right middle/superior frontal gyrus was reduced, a finding associated with diminished executive function in prior literature. We suggest that, in PSI, increased within-network cingulo-opercular FC may be associated with hypervigilance to social threat, whereas reduced right middle/superior frontal gyrus FC to the cingulo-opercular network may be associated with diminished impulse control.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Mar 29 2016


  • Attention
  • Functional connectivity
  • Loneliness
  • Perceived social isolation
  • Resting-state fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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