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Transient loneliness affects increasing numbers of people from migrants and carers to students and lone workers. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Study to tackle transient loneliness

University of Exeter researchers hope a new study will raise awareness of the issue of ‘transient loneliness’ which affects increasing numbers of people from migrants and carers to students and lone workers. 

As many as one in 10 people in the UK are lonely. Transient loneliness typically affects people who are temporarily separated from family and friends and undergo important life transitions or disruptions such as: migrant workers moving to the UK for employment, students who leave home to study, lone workers, and those who find themselves in the position of needing to provide full-time care to a family member. 

Such groups are thought to be more vulnerable to periods of loneliness and may be less likely to take steps to deal with it.  

University of Exeter researchers Professor Manuela Barreto and Dr Mark Atkinson from Psychology, are involved in the ‘Loneliness in the Digital Age: Building Strategies for Empathy and Trust’ study, and hope that the project will shed light on when and why digital technologies might assist in the successful management of transient loneliness and help relieve feelings of isolation.

Co-Investigator Professor Manuela Barreto said: "Loneliness and social isolation are important health problems. Studies have shown that they are at least as predictive of ill health and mortality as smoking and obesity.

"Without opportunities for engaging in rich and meaningful social connections, those who experience transient loneliness are at risk of entering a negative cycle that perpetuates loneliness and isolation."

The project is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), along with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), and brings together researchers from Loughborough University and the Universities of Bath, Newcastle, Exeter and Northumbria.

Lead researcher Professor Mike Wilson from the School of the Arts, English and Drama at Loughborough University said:

“It is ironic that in an age where we are more digitally connected than ever to the world around us, increasing numbers of people are experiencing periods of loneliness.

“Our aim is to better understand what it means to be transiently lonely, to map how and when these feelings occur, and to work with those affected to explore how this loneliness could be alleviated through creative interventions and technology.  

“These people are not ‘lonely people’ in the sense of being chronically lonely, but they are experiencing senses of isolation which could be detrimental to their health and wellbeing.”

Researchers are working with a number of groups and organisations to identify those experiencing or at risk of transient loneliness. 

Date: 19 November 2015

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