Lockdown and its Impact

Over the past few months majority of the world’s population stays affected by lockdown because of COVID-19. Many of us are experiencing the impact of social isolation. Loneliness affects both mental and physical health, but slowly it can also result in a lesser desire for social interaction.

To understand this mechanics of the mind, UCL researchers based at the Wolfson Institute and the Sainsbury Welcome Centre studied social behavior in zebrafish. They publish the results in eLife.

lockdown loneliness

Will Lockdown Loneliness make us Loners?

Most zebrafish show pro-social behavior. There is an exception of about approximately 10% who are ‘loner’ fish. They are averse to social cues and show different brain activity as compared to their pro-social siblings.

However, even typically social zebrafish avoid social interaction after being in isolation for a period. Ph.D. students Hande Tunbak and Mireya Vazquez-Prada, Postdoctoral Research Fellow Thomas Ryan, Dr. Adam Kampff, and Sir Henry Dale Wellcome Fellow Elena Dreosti set out to find whether the brain activity of isolated zebrafish mimics that of loner fish.

To study the effects of isolation, the researchers isolated typical social zebrafish from other fish for two days. Then they compared their brain activity to zebrafish who showed an aversion to social interaction without having experience isolation.

The isolated fish showed sensitivity to stimuli and had top activity in brain regions related to stress and anxiety. They quickly overcame these effects of isolation when the fish received a drug that lessens anxiety.

We mostly see the differences between loner fish and their siblings in the hypothalamus. This is the region of the brain responsible for social rewards.

The hypothalamus of the loner fish did not show the same pattern of activation during social exposure as its typical counterparts. This shows that the loner fish do not experience rewards in the same way as typical fish.


“A detailed view of the zebrafish brain can provide important clues for all of us experiencing the effects of social isolation,” says Dr. Elena Dreosti.

Our knowledge of the neural mechanisms of social behavior has a limit, but we know that zebrafish and humans share a fundamental drive for social interaction similar to brain structures.

Post Covid-19 lockdown we won’t be loners, but we can be sure about being prey to anxiety upon returning to our normal lives. Awareness about this anxiety and sensitivity will help us overcome it and return to healthy social existence.

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