Loneliness and Social Internet Use: Pathways to Reconnection in a Digital World?

Rebecca Nowland, Elizabeth A. Necka, John T. Cacioppo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

With the rise of online social networking, social relationships are increasingly developed and maintained in a digital domain. Drawing conclusions about the impact of the digital world on loneliness is difficult because there are contradictory findings, and cross-sectional studies dominate the literature, making causation difficult to establish. In this review, we present our theoretical model and propose that there is a bidirectional and dynamic relationship between loneliness and social Internet use. When the Internet is used as a way station on the route to enhancing existing relationships and forging new social connections, it is a useful tool for reducing loneliness. But when social technologies are used to escape the social world and withdraw from the “social pain” of interaction, feelings of loneliness are increased. We propose that loneliness is also a determinant of how people interact with the digital world. Lonely people express a preference for using the Internet for social interaction and are more likely to use the Internet in a way that displaces time spent in offline social activities. This suggests that lonely people may need support with their social Internet use so that they employ it in a way that enhances existing friendships and/or to forge new ones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-87
Number of pages18
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Volume13
Issue number1
Early online date22 Sept 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

Keywords

  • individual differences
  • interpersonal relations
  • loneliness
  • reconnection

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