Music, television, tablet computers and radio can provide a “comforting friendly face” for those who spend a lot of time alone - especially the recently bereaved or those isolated through illness or disability, a new report has found.
Working with the University of York, the charity WaveLength found that “artificial or surrogate companionship” can alleviate loneliness by itself.
Researchers from the University’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work analysed whether media technology could provide benefits to help combat loneliness - contrary to the growing perception that technology, and in particular social media, makes people less engaged with those around the, and therefore more socially isolated and unhappy.
But they found that technology could alleviate feelings of loneliness in three ways, by providing “comfort and companionship”, reducing the experience of loneliness and the associated negative emotions; by helping to build social connections by bringing people into “real word” contact with others; and by providing access to a broad range of information and inspiration, from advice on emotional wellbeing and both mental and physical health.
Those who took part in the study reported that technology produced therapeutic effects, lifted low moods and increased their motivation. One participant told researchers the television had become like company, and said: “Although I do watch TV by myself, it keeps your mind occupied, so you don’t feel lonely.”
The study found the music in particular can make people feel less lonely by triggering emotional memories. Another participant said: “Days when you just don’t feel motivated anything or it’s dreary, it’s miserable, cold, and then you hear certain tunes –- especially if you hear tunes that make you remember positive things – yeah, it’s good.”
Director at York’s International Centre for Mental Health Social Research, Professor Martin Webber, who led the study with Dr Annie Irvine, said: “This study found that recipients of media technology subjectively reported that it helped to alleviate loneliness and social isolation, in addition to a wide range of other positive impacts on their lives.
“This small study suggests that the provision of radios and televisions to people marginalised by society may help to tackle loneliness and social isolation, which are significant social problems in the UK.”
WaveLength was founded in 1939 as the Wireless for the Bedridden Society. It gives technological devices to lonely and isolated people across the country to provide them with a connection to the outside world.
The charity’s chief executive, Tim Leech, said: “Media technology does not just provide entertainment: it can improve wellbeing for lonely people and give them a way back into the world.
“WaveLength is hoping to conduct more research to expand this study, reaching more participants and exploring further benefits offered by the media.”
The Yorkshire Post has been raising awareness of the health impact of loneliness, which can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, since 2014.
We launched Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic after revealing the heartbreaking scale of social isolation in the region, which takes it toll on 91,300 older people.
This February, on the second anniversary of the campaign, we renewed our commitment to helping those schemes which support lonely people across Yorkshire by launching #2016hours. We want our readers to donated a combined 2,016 hours of volunteering to the Royal Voluntary Service this year. For details of vacancies near you, visit yorkshirepost.co.uk/lonelines