Does Isolation Affect Memory?

Just like my last blog post, I originally had no idea what to write for this blog post. After hours of thinking, I still managed to end up with a blank screen. Yes, I know I’m dramatic… Yet, I’m still not sure why it takes me so long to figure out what to say for these blog posts. If anyone has seen the TV show SpongeBob, you will remember the episode where SpongeBob had to write an essay. For the longest, all he could come up with for his essay was the word “The” [as seen in the photo below]. In a way, I originally felt just like him. Jokes aside, I took forever to find an idea. I laid on my bed and stared at my bedroom ceiling. Surrounded by the four walls of my bedroom, I laid on my bed in isolation thinking about this blog post and how I could remember cognitive concepts discussed in my class to, essentially, talk about in my blog post. Then, I suddenly got an idea! I wondered, how could isolation affect people’s memory?

As you all now know, the world has been highly impacted by this pandemic called the Coronavirus. As far as I know, please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s a deadly illness that essentially causes respiratory problems. It affects all ages and can be spread by sneezing and/or coughing. It could also be spread by touching certain surfaces that already have the virus on it. Besides the detailing of the virus, world leaders have basically ordered citizens to adhere to social distancing and only go out of their homes if absolutely necessary. In other words, people have to stay home. Social distancing and staying at home may seem like a nuisance to most people, but it’s understanding that people with power are trying to maintain and/or limit the spread of the virus by limiting physical contact. Although staying at home is considered a safe precaution, being isolated and/or told to stay home can be quite an impact when it comes to people’s mental states.

With that being said, I believe that social isolation could potentially impact people’s memory. Based on the notes and lectures given in my class, memory essentially refers to a brain function where data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2017). Although memory may seem like an out-of-the-way concept in relation to social isolation, I believe that it could be an interesting concept to investigate. While scrolling through different news articles that were recently uploaded online, I found an article that essentially talked about how different parts of the brain could be impacted by social isolation and therefore cause problems with things such as memory. Specifically, the article had claimed that “…prolonged social isolation physically changes the shape and function of your brain. The hippocampus, the region responsible for learning and memory not only shrinks in size in response to long-term isolation, it loses its plasticity and may eventually shut down altogether. At the same time the amygdala, which regulates your fear and anxiety response, goes into overdrive” (Tarantola, 2020). In other words, this article basically claims that memory could somewhat be decreased due to the effect of social isolation.

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Although this is an article that claims such information, it’s important to find actual studies that support such a claim. Luckily, I was able to find a study by credible researchers. By sampling numerous men and women aged 50+, the researchers, Read et al., were able to support the claim. According to the study, Read et al. found that “… isolation increased, and memory decreased over time. Among men an initially high level of social isolation was associated with a somewhat greater decrease in memory. Among women a greater increase in social isolation predicted a greater decrease in memory and a larger change in social isolation was associated with further larger changes in isolation, although when social isolation reached a higher level it subsequently decreased” (Read et al., 2020). In other words, social isolation does, in fact, have an impact on memory.

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Even though this was only one article that supported such a claim, and it focused solely on older adults, there are other studies that support it as well. Referenced below are other supporting studies that use different approaches to investigate the effect of isolation on memory. Although there are supporting studies, I noticed that there were also other articles that contradicted it. So, why is there mixed evidence about this topic? All-in-all, it’s quite interesting that memory could potentially be impacted by social isolation. With that being said, do you think that social isolation could impact memory? Please do share your ideas in the comments and tell me what you think!

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Read, S., Comas-Herrera, A., & Grundy, E. (2020). “Social Isolation and Memory Decline in Later-life”. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 75(2): Pages 367–376,

Robinson-Riegler & Robinson Riegler. Cognitive Psychology: Applying the Science of the Mind. Pearson, 2017. ISBN: 9780134003405.

Tarantola, Andrew. “The psychological impact of COVID-19 isolation, as explained by scientists”. Engadget, 27 Mar. 2020. Retrieved from

Additional Articles

Almeida-Santos, A., Carvalho, V., Jaimes, L., De Castro, C., Pinto, H., Oliveira, T., . . . Pereira, G. (2019). “Social isolation impairs the persistence of social recognition memory by disturbing the glutamatergic tonus and the olfactory bulb-dorsal hippocampus coupling”. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 473.

Wang, Bin, Wu, Qiong, Lei, Lei, Sun, Hailun, Michael, Ntim, Zhang, Xuan, . . . Li, Shao. (2019). “Long-term social isolation inhibits autophagy activation, induces postsynaptic dysfunctions and impairs spatial memory”. Experimental Neurology, 311, 213-224.

10 thoughts on “Does Isolation Affect Memory?

  1. chieber

    First of all, I love the spongebob references, secondly, this certainly explains why introverted self had such a hard time getting things done and remembering all the things I had to do.

  2. scampbellharris

    I had never thought about this before. It makes a lot of sense and now I am looking back on how I’ve been handling isolation so far. Very interesting.

  3. ejones9

    I really enjoyed reading your post. The topic was interesting and applicable enough that I read through the whole thing without getting bored or distracted. This is an important thing to examine because after so many of us being socially isolated for so long, it will definitely impact us more than we know. Good job!

  4. carmennichols

    I know exactly how you feel about trying to find a topic for the blog posts. It always takes me forever to come up with a topic, which is why I wait so long to finish it. Anyways, I love the Spongebob memes, that episode is one of my favorites because it’s so relatable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just stared at a blank screen waiting for ideas to show up. Especially with this whole virus going around, I like how you were able to connect the meme with self-isolation because it’s such a big part of our lives now. I can definitely feel a change in my regular routine. My entire sleep schedule is off and I’m finding it difficult to feel engaged in school like I was before. I also can see a difference in my memory. I don’t feel as “into it” as I was before, which I can see entirely how this isolation can be very impactful.

    I think that since there’s no need to get up at a certain time or go to certain place or do anything like how we did before, our memory has been messed up by all this. However, I don’t think there’s a huge change. I think with the more time that goes by in isolation, our memories may be further affected. We’re not as engaged so I think everything is off but hopefully we’ll be able to get back to normal once everything calms down. Thanks for sharing!

  5. kaygoss

    I really liked this post! I definitely think that social isolation can have some impact on memory. During times like this, I am finding it hard to figure out what day it is. Just because my schedule is out of order and I am really only working and coming home to sleep and then my day repeats. For people that are truly stuck inside with no where to go, I can see how that would mess with your memory. There isn’t must outside stimulus and that can be incredibly challenging.

  6. jackkirschner

    This is very interesting! My life has been crazy sense all this began as well. I have been sleeping a lot more and staying in my house a lot which is very unlike me. I think this who thing has had a profound impact on a lot of people and will continue to do so.

  7. Sydney Wayne

    All I could think about when reading your blog post was solitary confinement in prison. I, personally, find it to be cruel and unusual punishment. A ton of psychologist believe that complete isolation does awful things to your mental state and brain, thus also believing solitary confinement to be a cruel and unusual punishment. Like you cited, “…prolonged social isolation physically changes the shape and function of your brain.” I think that the USA is the only developed nation to still implement solitary confinement. I also think the death penalty too. I could be wrong on both of those but do think I have heard that argument made before.
    I do see in social media that psychologist/sociologist/mental health care workers are trying to clarify that this is physical distancing rather than social distancing. We don’t want to be completely cutting our selves off from social interaction, just physical interaction. I hope that makes other feel better!!

  8. sdejong

    I found this really interesting to read. I would haven ever thought that memory could be effected by social isolation. Now looking at the topic, I completely agree. Since I have been confined in my house with little to no socialization, I hate to say it, but I have been forgetting to do my school assignments. I feel as though I am on summer vacation, but in reality I have online classes to maintain. I don’t know why I keep forgetting that I have actual school work to do, but reading this makes more sense of it. I also can’t remember the little things like, what day it is.

  9. ccragun

    I really liked this article! I hadn’t really thought about isolation impacting memory so this was really interesting to read. I do think isolation definitely has some impact on memory, I know that I’ve been finding it a little bit more difficult staying on top of everything and talking to some friends I know they have too.

  10. awaltrip

    I had been thinking about this exact topic a few days after we all had gone home because of the virus. I think that the social isolation has the possibility to greatly impact people’s memory, social skills, and comprehension in general. My mother has always told me that many of the children that do poorly in school could be at a normal or even higher if they had gotten all of the time and attention of their parents; all of which referring to the time a child has to build their social and cognitive skills early on. I think the social isolation could possibility help children at home eventually have a better memory and cognitive skills, by having more time with their parents; however, I think that this will definitely hurt a lot of the adults in the population.

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