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Lack of social network more stressful for females than male counterparts

Lack of social network more stressful for females than male counterparts

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In Summary

Study provides proof that social isolation is more stressful to females than their male counterparts.

Editor Posted by Preeti Varghese

Social behavior

Many organisms socialize to share resources and cope with their environment. Social patterns have been observed at all levels of life ranging from microorganisms to insects, and even rats to humans. A herd of elephants, school of fish, a pack of wolves, ant colonies, beehives are all examples of social behavior. Through social behavior, the organisms protect each other from danger, find and share resources to survive in the environment. Social interactions in the right direction promote mental health and overall development. Social behavior and interactions depend on to a certain extent upon the genetic makeup of the organism. Social bonds are a way of feeling accepted by connecting with other individuals. 

Social cooperation is favored when the advantages of social living exceed the risks and costs involved. Altruism is the nature of an organism to warn and protect other individuals of danger/predators by putting themselves at risk. Reciprocity is another behavior evident in social beings when they perform favors for other individuals expecting that the favor will be returned. In eusocial colonies, the individuals are grouped by the roles they play as observed in bee hives and ant colonies. In all such examples through social cooperation, a group of individuals accomplishes what an individual alone might find almost impossible to accomplish.

Stress due to lack of social network

Social interactions alleviate stress and in turn, a lack of social interactions can be as stressful as physical pain. While different individuals cope with social stress in different manners, studies suggest that females suffer much greater than males as a result of social isolation. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine published in the journal eLife, provides proof that stress due to social isolation is sex-specific.

Proof of sex-specific stress to social isolation

The group of researchers led by Professor Jaideep Bains conducted experiments on preadolescent mice. The mice had been held together after weaning with other mice of the same sex. In the study, the preadolescent mice were either kept in the group or in pairs or were isolated from the group for 16-18 hours. After this period of isolation, the effect of isolation was studied by studying the release of stress hormones by brain cells. Corticosterone is a chemical released by the brain cells in response to stress and it decreases the excitability of the brain cells. The study was performed in both female and male mice in the same age groups and it was noted that female mice produced corticosterone on social isolation while male mice did not.

The group also compared the sex-specific response to physical stress by testing the mice through swimming for 20 minutes. It was observed that both males and females experience similar physical stress.

The results of this study lay major emphasis on the effects of preadolescent experiences on an individual’s development. It also suggests that studies on response to stress and social behavior need to be investigated in a more sex determined manner. The group proposes to study further the long-term effects of social isolation on males and females by studying if reuniting the isolated individuals with their group would erase the ill effects of social isolation on the brain.


Sexually dimorphic neuronal responses to social isolation.Senst L, Baimoukhametova D, Sterley TL, Bains JS. Elife. 2016 Oct 11; 5. [PMID:27725087]