Perceived social isolation, evolutionary fitness and health outcomes: a lifespan approach

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 May 26;370(1669):20140114. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0114.


Sociality permeates each of the fundamental motives of human existence and plays a critical role in evolutionary fitness across the lifespan. Evidence for this thesis draws from research linking deficits in social relationship--as indexed by perceived social isolation (i.e. loneliness)--with adverse health and fitness consequences at each developmental stage of life. Outcomes include depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, unfavourable cardiovascular function, impaired immunity, altered hypothalamic pituitary-adrenocortical activity, a pro-inflammatory gene expression profile and earlier mortality. Gaps in this research are summarized with suggestions for future research. In addition, we argue that a better understanding of naturally occurring variation in loneliness, and its physiological and psychological underpinnings, in non-human species may be a valuable direction to better understand the persistence of a 'lonely' phenotype in social species, and its consequences for health and fitness.

Keywords: evolutionary fitness; health; lifespan; loneliness; perceived social isolation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology
  • Models, Biological
  • Perception
  • Social Isolation / psychology*