There are a lot of different types of loners. But the coolest loners are like the movie characters Batman and Wolverine. There’s also Marv from the 2005 thriller, “Sin City.” Played by Mickey Rourke, he’s an official nutcase. However, he is willing to go to bat for the people, or the one person, that he cares about; although he probably doesn’t want to spend any quality time with them.
The most typical, however, are the weird or nerdy loners; but highly-intelligent like John Forbes Nash, Jr. from the 2001 drama, “A Beautiful Mind,” a true story. Played by Russell Crowe, he wants to have friends; but is more focused on his work. Other loner types include people who are mentally ill and have a “pathological fear of social contact.” Additionally, there are folks who simply choose to be alone, according to a Psychology Today contributor, Elizabeth Svoboda.
“Loners often hear from well-meaning peers that they need to be more social, but the implication that they’re merely black-and-white opposites of their bubbly peers misses the point. Introverts aren’t just less sociable than extroverts; they also engage with the world in fundamentally different ways.”
But a new study suggests that more and more people are, in fact, opting to live their lives alone with very little social interaction. The following explores why loners’ anti-social behavior can be harmful to their health.
Me, Myself and I
Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College, says, “There’s a big subdivision between the loner-by-preference and the enforced loner.” In other words, there are some people who just enjoy their own company.
“But is this go-it-alone ideal good for us,” The Wall Street Journal contributor, psychologist and author of “The Village Effect,” Susan Pinker asked.
According to the study, “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality,” both unintentional and deliberate social isolation is “associated with increased risk for early mortality.” The study, conducted by a team of researchers from Brigham Young University, takes a look at how much genuine “social interaction” influences how long you will live. In fact, the risk of an early death, within the next seven years, is approximately 30 percent more than just getting social butterflies.
To get the results of the study, the researchers used the statistical methods for contrasting and combining results from different research comprising 70 studies and over 3.4 million adults. The team’s conclusion support an increasing agreement: “In-person interaction has physiological effects.” But this is nothing new, says Pinker.
“Scientists have long known that loners are likely to die well before their more gregarious neighbors,” she says. The question, however, is what types of loners are at risk?
For the study, researchers used quantitative data on mortality to determine the likelihood of an early death for three types of loners: lonely people or introverts who have issues with connecting with other people; socially isolated or people who choose not to interact with other people; and people who live alone.
According to the study, those without friends have an odds ratio of 1.26 with an average of 26 percent of “an increased likelihood of mortality.” Socially isolated people have an odds ratio of 1.29 or 29 percent. But the loners with the highest odds ratio at 1.32 or a 32 percent risk of an early death are people who live alone, which include senior citizens and the disabled.
However, researchers did not uncover any variances between “measures of objective and subjective social isolation.” And, the results were the same “across gender, length of follow-up, and world region, but initial health status has an influence on the findings,” according to researchers. But there were some differences in terms of the age groups observed “with social deficits being more predictive of death in samples with an average age younger than 65 years.”
“Overall, the influence of both objective and subjective social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality,” say the study’s researchers.
So if they are not interacting with other people, how are these loners spending their time?
Phubbing YOU and YOU
Must loners can also be serial “phubbers” or simply chose to snub people in a social setting by looking at their mobile phone instead of paying attention. According to Market Watch social media editor, Sally French, Americans are the worse when it comes to anti-social behavior.
“Americans spend 42 minutes each day on average spending money,” says French. “And the amount of time spent ‘socializing and communicating?’ Just 35 minutes.”
Based on a new survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “it gets better on the weekends though,” French added. The annual “American Time Use Survey,” also found that Americans have more interaction with people on the weekends by 62 minutes per day. Most American loners, however, are more like John Forbes Nash, Jr. from “A Beautiful Mind.”
In another study, "Working at Home is on the Rise", conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, researchers found that 10 percent of Americans work alone and over 13 percent live alone, which is the highest rate of solo living in U.S. history. Despite the harmful effects and the obvious stereotypes, why are so many people actively choosing to be alone?
“Some people simply have a low need for affiliation,” Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College, told Psychology Today. “There’s a big subdivision between the loner-by-preference and the enforced loner.”
Perhaps, the old saying still applies, “If you don’t enjoy being by yourself, why would other people want to be with you?”
Are you a loner? Would you rather spend your time surfing the internet by yourself, or be with friends and acquaintances? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.