TOEFL: A discussion on how loneliness affects depression, and how loneliness can be measured by sleep patterns.
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[n] - noun, [p] - person, [v] - verb, [phv] - phrasal verb, [adj] - adjective, [exp] - expression
So one of the things I learned in all the research is that there are these, there is scientific evidence for nine causes of depression and anxiety. There may well be other causes for which we dont yet have evidence. Two of those courses are biological. There are things that in your biology can make you much more sensitive to depression and anxiety, and seven are factors in the way we live. And I dont think all of those factors have increased, but I do think some of them have increased.
So I'll give you one example of one of the most powerful determinants I think which is loneliness. Professor John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago, who I've interviewed a lot, has proven that loneliness causes depression and anxiety for a very kind of simple reason. As he put it to me, if you think about the circumstances where human beings evolved right. We exist, we're able to sit in this studio for one key reason. Our ancestors on the savannas of Africa were incredibly good at one thing. They were incredibly good at banding together in cooperative tribes. They weren't bigger than the animals they took down; they were much better at working together.
Every instinct human beings have is to be in a co-operative tribe. And you know just like bees need a hive, humans need a tribe. And there's really strong evidence that we are the first humans to really try to disband our tribes.
There's a study that asks Americans, "How many close friends do you have who you can call on in a crisis?" And when they started doing it years ago, the most common answer was five. Today the most common answer, it's not the average but the most common answer, is none. So we've got this unprecedentedly lonely society. And as Professor Cacioppo put it to me, you think about the circumstances where we evolved. If you were alone and separated from the tribe, you were anxious and depressed for a really good reason. You were about to be eaten, right? You were in terrible danger. If you got injured, you would probably die.
I'm very bought in on the loneliness research. I do think this is one of our truly severe social problems, but you had something I have never seen before, which is it you can measure the lonesomeness of people all over the world by testing how often they wake up in their sleep. That was really ... that's one of those ones that has rung in my head since I read it. Can you talk a bit about that research?
Yeah. I was totally fascinated by this myself.
So everyone experiences something called micro-awakenings in their sleep sometimes, which you wouldn't register them, but you wake up very slightly and then you go back to sleep. So you are roused a little. And one of the things we know is that when people feel lonely, they experience much higher levels of micro-awakenings. We think that's because if you went to sleep on the savannas of Africa or our ancestors and you were lonely, you would be right to be vigilant and keep waking up because you weren't protected by the tribe, right? That's Professor Cacioppo best thesis, although you know it's hard to test that. But it's a very good proxy for loneliness. If people describe it as being lonely, they will certainly experience a lot more micro-awakenings.
And one of the pieces of research that Proefessor Cacioppo did is he went to spent time with this group called the Hutterites, which they live in a very no electricity off the grid. And what he found is the Hutterites experience virtually no micro-awakenings in their sleep. What this demonstrated is it's not just that loneliness is a kind of inevitable human malady. It's that it is a function of certain ways of living.