Meta-analytic evidence for the cognitive control model of loneliness in emotion processing

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2022 Jul;138:104686. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2022.104686. Epub 2022 May 7.


Loneliness is strongly related to affective dysregulation. However, the neuropsychological mechanisms underpinning the loneliness-affective processing relationships remain unclear. Here, we first utilised the coordinate-based activation likelihood estimation method to confirm functional clusters related to loneliness, including the striatum, superior and medial frontal gyrus, insula, and cuneus. Meta-analytic connectivity modelling was then performed to characterise the functional connectivity of these clusters across studies using emotion tasks. Our results revealed that these clusters co-activated with the cognitive control networks. From the literature, we understand that loneliness and its neural correlates are highly related to regulating the attention biases to social rewards and social cues. Therefore, our findings provide a proof-of-concept that loneliness up-regulates the cognitive control networks to process socio-affective information. Prolonged up-regulation thus exhausts cognitive resources and hence, affective dysregulation. This study offers insight into the intricate role of cognitive and affective regulation in loneliness and social perception and provides meta-analytic evidence of the cognitive control model of loneliness and loneliness-related affective dysregulation, bringing significant clinical implications.

Keywords: Affective processing; Loneliness; Meta-analysis; Meta-analytic connectivity modelling.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging