Changing how a person perceives and thinks about others was the most effective intervention for loneliness, a sweeping analysis of previous research has determined. The findings may help physicians and psychologists develop better treatments for loneliness, a known risk factor for heart disease and other health problems.
Recently, researchers have characterized the negative influence of loneliness upon blood pressure, sleep quality, dementia, and other health measures. Those effects suggest that loneliness is a health risk factor, similar to obesity or smoking, which can be targeted to improve patients' health in several dimensions.
"People are becoming more isolated, and this health problem is likely to grow," said John Cacioppo, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. "If we know that loneliness is involved in health problems, the next question is what we can do to mitigate it."
To determine the most effective method for reducing loneliness, Cacioppo and a team of researchers from the University of Chicago examined the long history of research on the topic. Published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, their quantitative review found that the best interventions targeted social cognition rather than social skills or opportunities for social interaction.
The team's review, called a meta-analysis, analyzed the methods and results from dozens of papers that tested loneliness interventions. Strategies fell into four categories: improving social skills, increasing social support, creating opportunities for social interaction, and addressing social cognition.
When the researchers pooled the 20 studies that employed the most rigorous study design of randomized, controlled trials, they found a small, but significant effect on reducing loneliness. Sub-dividing the studies by their strategy revealed that interventions targeting social cognition – a person's thoughts about themselves and others – were far more effective than the other strategies.
"We're getting a better understanding of loneliness, that it's more of a cognitive issue and is subject to change," said Christopher Masi, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and lead author of the study.
Specifically, the four interventions that helped people break the cycle of negative thoughts about self-worth and how people perceive them were the most effective at reducing loneliness. Studies that used cognitive-behavioral therapy, a technique also used for treating depression, eating disorders and other problems, were found to be particularly effective, the authors reported.
"Effective interventions are not so much about providing others with whom people can interact, providing social support, or teaching social skills as they are about changing how people who feel lonely perceive, think about, and act toward other people," Cacioppo said.
The quantitative analysis also examined whether group interventions were more effective than individual-based therapies for loneliness. Despite previous findings from qualitative reviews that favored group formats, the current review found no advantage for either group or individual interventions.
"That's not that surprising, because bringing a bunch of lonely people together is not expected to work if you understand the root causes of loneliness," Masi said. "Several studies have shown that lonely people have incorrect assumptions about themselves and about how other people perceive them. If you bring them all together, it's like bringing people with abnormal perceptions together, and they're not necessarily going to click."
Cacioppo, Masi, and colleagues next hope to apply what they learned from their review toward designing new ways of measuring and treating loneliness. Interventions of various intensity can also be designed for use by psychologists and primary care physicians on people with minor or severe loneliness. But all such designs would do well to focus on social cognition above other tools to reduce the health hazard of loneliness.
"I think loneliness is increasingly recognized as an important problem in medicine - and certainly the demographic trends in society will likely exacerbate this problem," Masi said. "We found a type of intervention which seems to be effective and we are looking forward to testing a new intervention based on these findings."
The paper, "A Meta-Analysis of Interventions to Reduce Loneliness," was published online by Personality and Social Psychology Review. Other authors on the paper include Hsi-Yuan Chen and Louise C. Hawkley of the University of Chicago. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the John D. Templeton Foundation.
Robert Mitchum | EurekAlert!
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine