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Mindfulness may curb loneliness

Updated: Oct 26, 2019

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh find that after 2 weeks of mindfulness training people spend more time with others and feel less alone.


Most people feel lonely from time to time. But with nearly one half of adults feeling socially isolated, loneliness has become a major public health concern. To address this, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and their colleagues tested whether mindfulness skills like paying attention and openness and acceptance might reduce loneliness and increase social connection. Following 2 weeks of training, study participants spent more time with others and felt less alone.


The study included 153 self-identified stressed adults from Pittsburgh who enrolled in a smartphone training program to help them manage stress. Investigators randomly assigned participants to one of 3 different types of instruction to see if a combination of “attention monitoring” - paying attention to thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and acceptance – maintaining an attitude of openness, receptivity, and calmness would be more effective than either attention training alone, or just teaching techniques for coping with stress.


Participants were asked to view 14 lessons in 2 weeks on their mobile phones. Unlike in-person programs where people would naturally increase their social contact, the use of mobile technology allowed researchers to see whether participants would engage more with others and feel less lonely just by learning new skills. Surveys were sent to participants’ cell phones 4 time per day to track their loneliness and social interactions. They also kept a daily diary of their feelings and activities.


After 2 weeks, adults who learned a combination of attention monitoring and acceptance, both core aspects of mindfulness, were significantly more socially engaged and less lonely than those in the attention monitoring only or stress coping groups. They reported roughly two more social contacts per day, and were 22% less lonely after completing the program.


The study’s authors believe that in becoming more aware of social cues and our reactions to them, and practicing nonreactivity, we can reduce our negative perceptions and emotions and ease loneliness and distress. In turn, more insight and flexibility and less reactivity may also allow us to respond more mindfully to others. With chronic loneliness being as potentially damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes per day , spending time with others may be one of the best ways to stay healthy.