How important are social interactions to an individual’s happiness? A study published in the Journal of social and personal relationships suggests that increasing social interaction, something that has been difficult during the coronavirus pandemic, may lead to lower rates of loneliness and depression.
Amid the rise of COVID-19, people have been concerned about how social distancing and isolation measures could be detrimental to people’s social life and mental health. Research finds that quarantine led to higher levels of loneliness and depression, and these effects were compounded for people who had to stay in quarantine longer. This is consistent with previous studies that have revealed the importance of social interaction and relationships for people’s happiness and well-being.
Researcher Adam Kuczynski and his colleagues sought to “identify components of everyday social interactions that are associated with changes in depressed mood and loneliness” through this study. They collected a sample of adults from King County, Washington, who were recruited through social media ads, grocery store flyers, local news articles, and other places.
Their sample included 515 adult participants. Participants completed daily surveys for 75 consecutive days, which were prompted by text message at 7:30 p.m. each evening. Their sample also completed measures of depression, loneliness, amount of social interaction, perceived responsiveness, and vulnerable self-disclosure.
The results showed that people who engage in more social interactions, more self-disclosures, and who feel people respond to them more show lower levels of depression and loneliness. Increased social interaction, regardless of the individual’s baseline, can be a protective factor.
This study found that greater vulnerable self-disclosure was linked to higher depression and loneliness when the individual experienced greater responsiveness. This is inconsistent with similar recent research. The effect of quality and quantity of social interaction was similar for loneliness and depressed mood, showing a strong relationship between these two variables.
Despite the many strengths of this study, such as the longitudinal design and daily data collection, it also has some limitations. It is unclear whether these results would be different if participants were sampled more or less frequently.
This study also cannot rule out the possibility of reverse causation, such that instead of social interactions altering the individual’s levels of depression, depression may alter the frequency of the individual’s social interactions. Finally, it is possible that due to the collection of this data at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not generalize to daily life.
“Concerns about the possible effects of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted several gaps in our knowledge about the association between social interactions and mental health,” the researchers concluded. “The current study aimed to characterize the unique effect of the quantity and quality of social interactions on daily depressed mood and loneliness and to identify the degree to which these processes function at intra-individual and inter-individual levels of analysis. .”
“The results suggest that social interactions in general, and perceived responsiveness in particular, may protect against depressed mood and loneliness regardless of trait levels of these variables. Substantial heterogeneity in these effects was observed, however, and future research should focus on identifying factors that predict this heterogeneity.
The study, “The effect of quantity and quality of social interaction on depressed mood and loneliness: a daily diary study,” was authored by