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University of Bath

Loneliness in the Digital Age

This ESRC project mapped responses to episodes of loneliness and explored the potential for creative digital interventions to manage those experiences.

Loneliness is one of the most significant challenges faced by Western societies in the 21st century. Experiences of loneliness are complex and usually involve feelings of anxiety, lack of connectedness and community, dissatisfaction, depression, and pessimism.

In the UK, surveys suggest that one in ten people are ‘lonely’, with loneliness being linked to ill health and premature mortality. As work and life patterns continue to change, it seems likely that greater numbers of us will experience episodes of loneliness. More people are now working remotely or are required to move abroad for purposes of work and education, thus finding themselves separated from their colleagues, family, friends and social networks for protracted periods of time. Carers can also suffer from loneliness and feelings of isolation through lack of social interaction and support. The shifting of healthcare services to the home alongside the rising trajectory of chronic diseases mean that increasingly people can find themselves taking on a caring role for family members. In the UK, there are currently 6.5 million carers and the number is expected to rise to 9 million by 2037. Alongside these changes to people’s lives, technological innovations, such as social media, have enabled people to connect with others and to initiate and maintain social relationships in online environments.

Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods and informed by the principles of participatory research, the Loneliness in the Digital Age (LiDA) study worked closely with different communities experiencing different types of separation and social isolation – students leaving their home country or town to study in a UK university, remote workers, and informal carers providing full time care for a spouse, partner or other relative. The project examined episodes of online and offline loneliness and the potential role of empathy and trust in both mitigating and preventing such experiences. It sought to develop new digital technologies to support new modes of facilitating empathy and trust between people, and evaluate the effects of the digital interventions developed.

Research team

The University of Bath is leading the design and conduct of the qualitative research for this collaborative project.

  • Professor Michael Wilson, Loughborough University (Principal Investigator)
  • Professor Manuela Barreto, University of Exeter (Co-Investigator)
  • Professor John Vines, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)
  • Professor Shaun Lawson, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)



LiDA is supported by the:

  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), in partnership with
  • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)
  • Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI)

and is one of a cluster of projects funded under the “Empathy and Trust In Communicating Online” (EMoTICON) call.