Using Behavioural Insights to Reduce Loneliness

In Blog by Michael

5 April 2024

Darianna Frontera-Villanueva


Using Behavioural Insights to Reduce Loneliness

When we notice a gap between our current social relationships and those we want, we may experience loneliness. As reported levels of loneliness continue to rise, some researchers have started calling it a behavioural epidemic. This blog post provides behavioural strategies that councils, charities, or other institutions can implement to counteract the loneliness epidemic and promote the use of community spaces.

Various factors have contributed to the loneliness epidemic, such as the advancement of technology, the popularity of social media, and the growing divide between people's different beliefs and opinions, which makes people less willing to cooperate with each other. Additionally, the limited access to community spaces has made people feel more socially isolated. 

As social beings, our surroundings and the people we interact with have a significant impact on our mental health and overall wellness. The poor design of cities and neighbourhoods, with limited access to community spaces (also known as third spaces), has worsened loneliness worldwide. Third spaces can be any place where people spend time outside work or home, like a local coffee shop, bookstore, barber, gym, park, church, or community centre. These spaces are vital elements of the local community and are linked to improved standards of living, emotional and physical wellbeing, and building a strong sense of connectivity, security and comfort. 

Encouraging people to use available third spaces and form new social circles can be an effective way to combat loneliness. By applying insights from psychology and behavioural science, we can help address the loneliness epidemic that is affecting many individuals today. Here, we propose possible strategies: 

  • Encouraging people to utilise the spaces that are already a part of their routine and promoting behaviour changes that align with their habits can effectively reduce loneliness. The key is to make the process easy and attainable so that individuals feel empowered to make a positive change. For example, if an individual frequents a specific coffee shop, motivate them to start a new conversation with someone every time they visit, like asking the baristas what new drink they recommend or how their week has been. Another example would be to encourage them to speak to their neighbours whenever they come across them. These tasks don’t require individuals to go out of their way to start building community; instead, they get to integrate these practices into their routines. By doing so, public spaces can become more welcoming and secure by encouraging social interactions. This creates a sense of community among people who share that space rather than just being individuals who happen to be there.
  • Use tactics that feel familiar and achievable to the individuals and turn their personal goals into more socially inclined goals. For example, if a person wants to work out more often, prompt them to take a group class or join a running club instead of working out alone. That way, instead of initiating an activity by themselves, they’re encouraged to form part of a community with the same goals, holding each other accountable and motivating themselves and each other in the process. 
  • Encourage people to take part in activities that revolve around green spaces. Research shows that individuals living in walkable neighbourhoods tend to participate more frequently in community events, have a better understanding of their neighbours, and are more socially engaged; making them more likely to be satisfied with their lives.
  • Motivate individuals to share their goals with friends or loved ones. By sharing, they make a commitment not only to themselves but also to others.
  • When seeking social connections, encourage people to focus on shared values and experiences instead of differences. When people's attention is on similarities, they become receptive to and actively seek out the possibility of forming a connection with those around them. This way, they focus on building stronger relationships with those around them. 

We can foster a sense of community and belonging by utilising third spaces, which can lead to stronger communities and less loneliness. Encouraging social interaction and promoting community cohesion are key actions we can take towards achieving these goals. 

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