Research suggests high-quality social interactions may protect against depressed moods

How important are social interactions for individual happiness? A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that increasing social interaction, something made difficult by the coronavirus pandemic, could lead to less loneliness and depression.

Amid the rise of COVID-19, people worried about how social distancing and isolation measures could harm people’s social lives and mental health. Research shows that quarantine did indeed lead to higher levels of loneliness and depression, and these effects were exacerbated for individuals who had to quarantine for longer. This is consistent with previous studies showing the importance of social interaction and relationships for people’s happiness and well-being.

Researcher Adam Kuczynski and colleagues sought through this study to “identify the components of everyday social interactions associated with changes in depressed mood and loneliness.” They collected a sample of adults from King County, Washington, who were recruited through social media ads, flyers distributed at the grocery store, local news articles and other locations.

Their sample included 515 adult participants. Participants completed daily surveys for 75 days in a row, which were requested by text message at 7:30 PM in the evening. Their sample also completed measures on depression, loneliness, amount of social interaction, perceived responsiveness, and vulnerable self-disclosure.

The results showed that individuals who participate in more social interactions, more self-disclosures, and feel that people are more responsive to them, showed lower levels of depression and loneliness. Increased social interaction, regardless of the individual’s starting position, can be a protective factor.

This study found that increased vulnerable self-disclosure was associated with higher depression and loneliness when someone felt there was more responsiveness. This contradicts similar recent research. The effect of quality and quantity of social interaction was similar for both loneliness and depressed mood, demonstrating a strong relationship between these two variables.

Despite the many strengths of this study, such as its longitudinal design and daily data collection, it also has some limitations. It is difficult to know whether these results would be different if participants were sampled more or less frequently.

This study also cannot rule out the possibility of reverse causality, such as that instead of social interactions altering individual depression levels, depression may alter individual frequency of social interactions. Finally, because this data was collected at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that it would not be generalized to everyday life.

“Concerns about the potential effects of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted several gaps in our understanding of the link between social interactions and mental health,” the researchers concluded. “The present study aimed to characterize the unique effect of the quantity and quality of social interaction on daily depressive mood and loneliness and to identify the extent to which these processes operate at the inter-person and inter-person analysis levels.”

“The results suggest that social interactions in general, and perceived responsiveness in particular, may protect against depressive moods and loneliness, independent of a person’s attribute levels of these variables. However, significant heterogeneity in these effects was observed and future research should focus on identifying factors that predict this heterogeneity.”

The study, “The Effect of Quantity and Quality of Social Interaction on Depressed Mood and Loneliness: A Daily Diary Study,” was authored by

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