The relationship between loneliness and aloneness is not always clear. Now, University of Arizona researchers Matthias Mehl and Dave Sbarra along with others have analyzed that relationship – and found that they are two different things that are not closely correlated.
People don't feel lonely until they spend three-quarters of their time alone, the study found. However, when their alone time goes beyond 75%, it becomes difficult for them to avoid feelings of loneliness. The study also concludes that among older adults, there is a particularly strong association between time spent alone and feeling lonely. The social network of people gets smaller as they get older, and the ability to spend time with others diminishes for many older adults, said David Sbarra, a UArizona professor of psychology and a senior author on the paper.
"We needed a good measure of how much time people spend alone, and that's why we started this research," said Matthias Mehl, a UArizona psychology professor, also a senior author of the study. Over the course of his career, Mehl has developed a method for studying social activity in everyday life. The Electronically Activated Recorder, or EAR, is a smartphone app that records with participants' permission the sounds they make for 30 seconds every 12 minutes. The researchers used EAR to characterize time spent alone.
To read more about the study, how results may be considered health determinants, and more about the technologies being developed and their applications: