New grant studying the neurobiological effects of social isolation and protective effects of staying digitally connected

A pilot project entitled “Charting the neurobiology of social distancing: Exploring the causal effects of social isolation on the brain and the impact of staying digitally connected online” has been selected for funding! Our ability to connect people online has fundamentally changed the nature of social life. As millions worldwide struggle with the effects of social isolation from COVID-induced lockdowns this digital connectedness has never seemed more vital. Our project tackles a fundamental question of our time: How effective is ‘online’ social connectedness in protecting us from causal somatic effects of social isolation? Experimentally, this question is challenging to answer in humans. We will use a colony of non-human primates (NHPs)—our closest evolutionary relatives—to address two aims: (1) Understand the multifaceted neurobiological changes that occur as NHPs transition from rich social environments (group living) to living in isolation or smaller groups. (2) Test whether and how virtual interactions with conspecifics (face-to-face video chat) can attenuate the physical effects of isolation.