Persistent social isolation reflects identity and social context but not maternal effects or early environment
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Individuals who are well integrated into society have greater access to resources and tend to live longer. Why some individuals are socially isolated and others are not is therefore puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. Answering this question requires establishing the mix of intrinsic and contextual factors that contribute to social isolation. Using social network data spanning up to half of the median adult lifespan in a gregarious primate, we found that some measures of social isolation were modestly repeatable within individuals, consistent with a trait. By contrast, social isolation was not explained by the identity of an animal’s mother or the group into which it was born. Nevertheless, age, sex and social status each played a role, as did kin dynamics and familiarity. Females with fewer close relatives were more isolated, and the more time males spent in a new group the less isolated they became, independent of their social status. These results show that social isolation results from a combination of intrinsic and environmental factors. From an evolutionary perspective, these findings suggest that social isolation could be adaptive in some contexts and partly maintained by selection.
This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grants R01-MH089484 and R01-MH096875, and an Incubator Award from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. L.J.N.B. was supported by an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. Data provided by the University of Puerto Rico, and its facilities, are funded by grant number 2 P40 OD012217 from the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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Vol. 7, article 17791