Consequences of loneliness for the individual and the group and its interactions with the Internet Vaibhav Varma
Loneliness, known as an individual’s perceived isolation in most scientific literature, has been and continues to be a critical subject of research due to its relevance for the psychological, medical, and sociological fields. It is generally assumed to be a product of actual social isolation and while to a degree this is true, these quantities are interrelated in a more complex fashion than simple causality. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, the effects of loneliness extend far beyond the mental state of the suffering individual creating significant problems in one’s behavior, physiology, and social network. In light of these substantial, disease-like properties and negative consequences for group dynamics, loneliness should be thoroughly studied, especially as technology, notably the Internet, continues to develop and reform previous means of communication and socialization. A brief aside at this point will facilitate understanding of the research presented hereon and minimize repetitive clarifications on the viability of their methodologies and evidence. Loneliness is not an easily measured quantity and knowledge of its presence and severity is by its very nature limited to the subjective evaluation of the individual experiencing it. Most research on this subject matter must thus contend with imprecision borne of this subjectivity and self-evaluation and usually relies on well-established questionnaires and large population surveys. The former allows for facile comparison of different research efforts and their results; additionally, analyses of the data collected by self-reporting on questionnaires have repeatedly shown to allow significant correlations between loneliness and other experimental variables to be discovered. The latter methodological strategy of large sample populations minimizes the imprecision of this type of data through the sheer number of data points. One example of the above strategy is called the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a series of 10 positive and 10 negative statements with responses given via a 4-point scale. Other research presented later either uses this test, a closely derived alternative, or a test analogous in functionality. Therefore, moving forward only the most critical or unique elements of studies will be cited insofar as their relevance to the overall discussion and their applicability to our understanding of loneliness and its interactions with the Internet. It should be implicitly understood why these research efforts and their results are held as credible, namely, for the methodological strategies specified above. We now consider the myriad consequences of loneliness starting with its effects on an individual’s psychology; unsurprisingly, most are negative. Perceived isolation in different types of social relationships, say, peer group or family member, has been linked to an array of serious psychological problems. For example, a study of 1,009 high school adolescents revealed a significant correspondence between loneliness and a variety of indicators for psychopathologies including depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, social phobia, self-harm, and eating disorders (Lasgaard et al., 2011). On the basis of this, it is postulated by the authors that a social support network, specifically one diverse in the types of social relationships, is essential for proper development. Up to this point layman understanding of the psychological phenomenon of loneliness is in line with experimental results. Particularly jarring to our basic understanding of perceived isolation and its effects are the numerous, grave physiological conditions linked to increased loneliness in an individual. In regards to this, research conducted by Shankar et al. is especially relevant. Data collected on the health and health behaviors of 8,688 elderly participants in the English Longitudinal Study...
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