Lonely young people tend to feel that their neighborhoods lack cohesion

New research from King's College London shows that lonely young people feel that their neighborhoods lack cohesion, but that this could simply be a matter of perception.


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Loneliness is a specific problem among young adult, no matter what gender or socio-economic background. Some people may feel lonely when they are with friends, while some people experience loneliness for a few moments without spending time alone.

A study suggests loneliness can ruin the lives of young adults living in every kind of neighborhood in the UK.

A team of researchers at King’s College London investigated how one component of community- the immediate neighborhood- might relate to young adults’ feelings of loneliness.

More than 2,000 18-year-olds born in the UK were involved in the study by the researchers. The team asked them about their experience of feeling loneliness and to describe their neighborhoods. Using the participant’s postal code, the researchers got more information about their neighborhoods. They examine other sources like government data, surveys, and ratings based on Google Street View observations.

In the research, the team found that these young adults are more likely to have a negative view of where they live. The lonely individuals rated their neighborhoods less on “collective efficiency”. The term collective efficacy refers to the ability of members of a community to control the behavior of individuals and groups in the community.

When these data were compared with the actual data collected from more objective sources of information, it didn’t correlate. In fact, lonelier individual’s rating was lower than did their less lonely siblings who lived at the same address. The findings suggest that feeling lonely could put a negative bias on people’s subjective perceptions of their local area.

Lonely individuals tend to have more negative perceptions and expectations about their interactions with other people,” lead author Timothy Matthews explains in a King’s College news story. “These findings suggest loneliness could also dampen their perceptions of the wider community they live within.

Rather than seeking out more cohesive neighborhoods, lonely individuals may be more likely to self-select into environments that match their negative mood.

If lonely individuals feel that their neighborhoods are less friendly then they actually are, they could miss out on opportunities to connect with people around them,” says senior author Louise Arseneault.

The same researchers found last year in a study that loneliness is a particularly common problem among young people. It is linked to difficulties with mental health, lifestyle behaviors, and even employment prospects.

Strategies to reduce loneliness may need to go further than simply bringing people in the community together,” Matthews adds. “Counseling to help lonely individuals break out of negative patterns of thinking could enable them to get the maximum benefit from these opportunities.

The study is published in Psychological Science.