(CNN)If you're lonely, your brain might value Ellen DeGeneres, Mark Zuckerberg, your coworker and your best friend all the same — even though you clearly know some of them better than others.
When we're lonely, close friends, colleagues and celebrities all might seem the same to our brains
Loneliness — a perceived gap or disconnection between yourself and others — might affect how your brain perceives the people or relationships in your life, according to a study published Monday in the journal J. Neurosci.
Here's how that perception might happen.
Social connection is critical to our well-being, according to studies showing that having good relationships with friends and family boosts our mental and physical health. The more socially connected a person is, the higher his or her likelihood of reduced blood pressure, weight and stress.
On the flip side, social isolation has been linked with a higher risk of early death and a higher risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Although feeling close to others is so crucial, how the brain reflects that closeness has remained mostly obscure, according to the study. Filling this research gap was critical, the authors contended, as it might reveal mechanisms doctors and lonely patients could act upon to improve interpersonal connection and thus health.
With increased reports of loneliness around the world due to sheltering in place and social distancing, the impact of loneliness on people's health has researchers concerned.
Previous research has emphasized the strength of "weak ties" — those maintained by regular interactions with acquaintances with whom we work or attend school. Acquaintances might have an important role in well-being and social support.
"Our findings suggest that understanding how the brain represents weak ties may yield important insight into how loneliness links to negative outcomes," the study said.
Some recent articles on social distancing and working from home have cited the obscure importance and current absence of weak ties as reason for worry about the potential effects of both shifts on our mental health.
"We're missing out on a lot of that," said first author Andrea Courtney, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology at Stanford University in Californ