The word zeitgeist refers to common perceptions shared in a given culture. Meanwhile, a defining feature of loneliness is feeling that one’s views are not shared with others. Does loneliness correspond with deviating from the zeitgeist? Across two independent brain imaging datasets, lonely participants’ neural representations of well-known celebrities strayed from group-consensus neural representations in the medial prefrontal cortex—a region that encodes and retrieves social knowledge (Studies 1 A/1B: N = 40 each). Because communication fosters social connection by creating shared reality, we next asked whether lonelier participants’ communication about well-known celebrities also deviates from the zeitgeist. Indeed, when a strong group consensus exists, lonelier individuals use idiosyncratic language to describe well-known celebrities (Study 2: N = 923). Collectively, results support lonely individuals’ feeling that their views are not shared. This suggests loneliness may not only reflect impoverished relationships with specific individuals, but also feelings of disconnection from prevalently shared views of contemporary culture.

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